With the academic semester upon us, a rash of news articles about classroom learning have hit the press. First, the NY Times reviews recent reviews of research to remind us that some of what we know about how we learn is wrong. For example, it seems that students retain information better if they alternate rapidly between different subjects while studying and study in differently places.
Bill Petti has more. These studies remind of Nicholas Carr’s thesis on the effects of new media on memory, detailed in his book >The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Either he is wrong that our brains ever learned more by “reading deeply” during the era of the single printed text, or it proves his point that our multi-tasking, hyper-linked information economy has radically changed the way we read, absorb and retain information.
Which brings me to another interesting observation: seems like a quiet IPAD revolution is happening in some college classrooms:
Traditional textbooks have prevailed — until now. The game changer, according to Matt MacInnis, may be a little thing called the iPad.
MacInnis is the founder and CEO of Inkling, a company that designs textbook software for the iPad. He says the iPad has allowed for the reinvention of the textbook.
“We give guided tours through complex concepts,” he says. “So rather than seeing a picture of a cell dividing and then having a big, long caption, you can now tap … through all the different phases of cell division and see those things unfurl in front of you.”
He says that changes things because, until now, e-textbooks have basically just been bad imitations of their paper counterparts.
“When you just copy the stuff that’s on a page and slap it onto a computer screen, you really don’t get the same effect that was intended for what you have on paper,” he says.
Alex Montgomery-Amo, a professor of political science at Reed College in Portland, Ore., couldn’t agree more. Reed College is one of a number of universities around the country that have been experimenting with the iPad, turning Montgomery-Amo’s nuclear politics course into something of a laboratory for electronic readers.
Last year they tried out the Kindle and this year they’ve been given free iPads to test. Montgomery-Amo says they’re hoping to have better luck with the iPad than they had with the Kindle.
Of course, I’m not sure the privileged students at Reed really need free IPADs (how about running these “experiments” in some community colleges or low-income high-schools)? Still, it’s useful to think through the implications and opportunities of each emerging technology as it proliferates from the consumer market to traditional learning environments.