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Archive for September, 2011

Life (Online) As We Know It


What are your thoughts about virtual environments and “life on line?” Do you feel there is a correlation between life on line and academic achievement, for better or worse?

The article “Second Thoughts About ‘Second Life’” (Bugeja, 2007) really struck a chord with me this week. Though I think he does shade into reactionary and overly-dramatic responses at times, he does present some very valid points that faculty, students and parents should consider as more and more students and schools take or allow their students to go online and become a part of these virtual worlds.

A brief anecdote sums up my unease with ‘Second Life,’ though I don’t extrapolate my isolated experience the way Bugeja does: when I was in the military, I had several friends in my shop (fellow enlisted Airmen) who loved World of Warcraft and Second Life. They would play for hours, even on duty (as long as we were on night shift and it didn’t impact their work). They played at home and linked up with each other, forming ‘squads’ or ‘guilds’ and even some of their wives joined in. One industrious friend—perpetually delinquent in his rent—even created and advanced WoW characters to sell on ebay, which he actually received hefty payments for. Another friend, sadly, lost himself in these two particular games a bit and suffered a nasty divorce as a result of his unending playing and even virtual infidelity. Ever since that experience, fair or not, I have been hesitant to become involved in such games—the ones that are so pervasive that people seem to lose themselves in them.

Another area of concern is that, with this new age of ‘digital natives,’ there may be a correlation between life online and academic achievement. In “Facebook and Academic Performance” by Kirshner & Karpinski (2010), the researchers find a negative correlation between GPA’s and Facebook use. Their study is framed around the concept of multi-tasking, and how students and children nowadays involved themselves shallowly in ten different tasks at once, rather than pursuing one topic or train of thought deeply. Though the former (current) method may lend itself well to some careers and fields, the overall effect the researchers found was deleterious. Of the 200 or so respondents, the effect of less study time and lowered GPA’s was found amongst males, females, undergrads and grad students alike. Though I’ll save my problems with their sampling for another day, the study does raise some questions that educators and parents should ask themselves: are we equipping the next generation with skills of discernment, to know when one has had ‘enough’ Facebook, for instance? Is it the job of parents and educators to intervene or are we the ones that need to get with the program and realize that this—for good or ill—is the new way of things?


The Information Society…Here to stay?

What concept or idea intrigued you most in this weeks’ readings? How/does it relate to your thinking about the questions and issues raised in last week’s readings?

The “information society” and the “information age” are terms and concepts that are so ubiquitous nowadays that we can take them for granted. I don’t remember ever not having those terms as part of my daily life and lexicon. Yet, the American economy and system of production has evolved and changed dramatically over the past two hundred years—even the past fifty years—and the landscape now is far different than it used to be.

From agriculture to the industrial revolution to the service-dominated industries of the mid / late twentieth century, our methods of production have shifted with the needs of the market and with innovations and science and technology. In the Crawford text, I found it interesting that the ‘information sector’ could be seen as merely a “re-branding” of the service-sector…that somehow the products and services are the same under a different name. I don’t know if I agree with that. Just as we spoke last week about determinism (hard or soft), I think that technology is expanding in such a way that it does cause everything along with it to shift. Though many jobs and sectors nowadays do still provide a “service” with their information, it is so much more than that. The ‘information highway’ and the advent of the 24-7 news and information cycle have seemingly created a whole new type of existence for us that, though comparable in some ways to the service-dominated era, still has its own features and “feel” if you will.

Dyson et al. speak of several “waves” in a way very similar to Crawford. They go further, however, and talk about how the first wave (agriculture) and second wave (industry, oil, auto-production, etc.) have both benefitted from the advent of the technology age’s innovations and efficiencies. Some areas, though, are irrevocably altered or harmed from the ‘progress’ we have made, and as that trend continues, it is imperative of us to redefine our notions of what it means to communicate, to work, and to retire. For example, with our sectors realigning to suit the needs of the ‘new market,’ things like pensions and unions are becoming a thing of the past; I recently saw a news piece that the upcoming generation will have at least four to six ‘careers’ in their life instead of just one. This obviously has implications for our economy, for our individual identities and for our communities as well. Dyson et al. also hint and looming trouble for bureaucracies (like the American government) because the information age “spells the death of the central institutional paradigm of modern life” with its focus on specialization and individual freedom (p. 297).