by W. Ian O'Byrne
How will living in a highly socialized, technologized global community ultimately affect the literate lives of our students? Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation has determined that students (8 to 18 years of age) devote an average of seven and a half hours daily consuming and interacting with digital media. Some believe this unfettered access to online information and media resources allows for new opportunities to empower students as readers and writers. Still others fear the risks and challenges that occur as we ask students to superficially think, read, and create when working in an online informational space. Recent research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project splits this debate in two.
The research report is titled “Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives.” This report is the latest from the series of studies conducted in a partnership with Elon University that seek to determine what the future of the Internet will look like. The study surveyed 1,021 Internet experts to determine whether this “always on” connection to information will be a net positive or a net negative by 2020. The results of the study are intriguing as 55% of the experts surveyed indicated that these “hyperconnected” lives of our students could ultimately be a positive as students are overcoming their own shortcomings as learners and utilizing “collective intelligence.” The results also indicate that 42% of the respondents indicated that this ultimately would prove to be a negative as we are hard-wiring our brains in “unhealthy,” superficial ways.
The results of this work have been discussed on public radio, in the newspaper, and online. An examination of the results, and the design of the study indicate (for me at least) that there is a large amount of disagreement on parts of even the experts as to what the future holds. What is important is that we find opportunities to use online information authentically and effectively in our classrooms. Classroom instructors need to build the knowledge, skills, and dispositions our students will need as they interact in an online learning and informational space. We cannot begin to imagine what the text, or the tools will ultimately look like as these Internet and other communication technologies evolve. As literacy educators we can have a key role in determining how our students will interact when they get there.
W. Ian O'Byrne is an assistant professor in the Department of Education at the University of New Haven.
This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).
Technology Professional Development Sessions at the IRA Annual Convention