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Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lessons from ISTE and the Supreme Court Ruling: Why it's more important to get it right than to get it first.

I try to stay away from politics in this blog. Unless something in the news directly impacts on technology in Jewish education (like the Asifa), I shy away from commenting. It's not my role to pontificate about that latest current events and I don't think people care much about where I stand on political issues. However, I think there is a tremendous lesson about the role of technology in education to be culled from the news reporting surrounding the recent Supreme Court decision on the national health care plan.

Both CNN and FoxNews got it wrong. In their initial reporting after the decision was delivered at 10AM yesterday, they both headlined that the Supreme court had struck down the law. CNN ran the wrong headline for 6 long minutes before correcting itself and declaring that the court had actually upheld the law. How could they both be so wrong?

In a report on NPR addressing this question, Brian Stelter of the New York Times made a point that was both obvious and profound. They didn't read. In their rush to get the news first, both networks read the first few paragraphs of the ruling in which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts wrote that the health care legislation could not be upheld using the Commerce Clause and ran with the headline that the Supreme Court had struck down the health care law. They failed to read the next few paragraphs in which Justice Roberts declared the law to be constitutional since its fines could be considered a tax and not a penalty.

The politics of this ruling is not something for me to comment on. However, the lesson for the role of attentive reading in our technological age is profound. How many of us are so quick to blog and tweet that we fail to read attentively and listen carefully?

This point was the source of a great deal of debate at an Avi Chai sponsored dinner at this week's ISTE technology conference. One educator posed the question that with so much tweeting going throughout the lectures, how many of us fail to listen carefully enough to understand what is really being said. I countered that with a back channel of dozens or hundreds tweeting about what was being said at the workshop, the effect deepened the conversation and made each lesson more interactive. However, I can see both sides of this debate. Yes, live tweeting a lesson or news event can make a discussion more interactive but is this at the expense of more active listening and reflection?

Many researchers have made similar points. In the book iDisorder, Larry Rosen discusses the similarity between technology users and various psychological disorders. For example, the behavior of many people during a lecture with many windows open on their laptop while they simultaneously take notes, tweet, and instant message closely mimics the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. In the Shallows which I have blogged about in the past, Nicholas Carr argues that technology is discouraging attentive, careful reading since we read much more superficially online, jumping from hyperlinked page to page.

I believe that this desire to get things fast whether in the news or on Twitter mitigates against comprehension of complex text requiring higher-order thinking whether it be supreme court rulings or Talmudic debates. This should give us pause when embracing technology in education. While tweeting and other real-time technology tools can add interaction to a class, is this at the expense of depth and thoughtfulness? Other technology tools which can encourage reflection like blogging and asynchronous online discussion should be considered to encourage this type of thinking. Or perhaps sometimes we should just turn off the technology and practice deep reading and attentive listening. Time to pause and reflect are vitally important for our students (and for us). It's more important to get it right than to get it first.

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