The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

A Reaction to: ‘A Vision of Students Today’


It has become fairly common in education circles to discuss the effect that computers, the internet and a myriad of electronic ‘gadgets’ has had on education and on students.  As a teacher the change that these technologies has brought is evident every day.  No longer do students need to spend the time searching through books or journals, now with a few clicks Google can instantly deliver any information they need.  The speed of delivery of information has proved to be a boon for research but the new technologies may also be contributing to a serious problem. This paper will look at the video and article, ‘A Vision of Students Today’ and examine how the video can be seen as symptomatic of this problem, the effect that instant answers and instant information is having on students’ ability to think and to concentrate.

In the video Wesch tries to show us what his students are thinking and doing both inside and outside the classroom. The video attempts to illustrate that the traditional classroom, whether in university or grade school, is no longer relevant to the ‘wired’ generation. Near the end of the video a student holds up a sign that says, ‘I did not create the problems, but they are my problems’. Watching the video one wonders what problems she is referring to; the ample evidence of a very limited attention span in some of her classmates? Students who play on their computer or listen to an IPod while someone is lecturing? Students who are more interested in Facebook or their cell phones than their classes?  While for many viewers the video causes a reaction of anger directed towards the students, Wesch appears to be trying to relieve these students of any responsibility for their actions.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary he would like us to believe that these are bright, enthusiastic students who are being held back by ‘the system’.  Wesch appears to believe that this is backed up by the students’ claim that they ‘hate school, but love learning’. Just prior to telling us about his students’ love of learning he tells us some of the things his students have learned; that they can get by without studying, taking notes, reading the textbook or going to class.  I agree with the student in the video, there is a problem here and I agree with Wesch that technology may be at the center of it.  But rather than looking deeper at what the problem might be and how technology is affecting students, Wesch chooses to believe that it is the presence,  and his students’ knowledge of technology that is the root of the problem.  He doesn’t look at the bigger problem of how technology may be causing a change in the mental processes of his students.  This is the question that must be asked about the video, has  the new technology changed students so much that they are now being held back by the traditional classroom experience, or has the instant answers and instant gratification they experience through their various electronics made students unable to concentrate or hold their attention for any length of time?  This is a question that is becoming increasingly discussed.

In 2008 BBC published an article titled, “Is computer use changing children?”  The article discusses the work of Baroness Greenfield, a neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institute. In the article she poses the question, “could the sensory-laden environment of computers result in people staying in the world of the small child?” (Settle, 2008)  She further wonders, “could it be if a small child is sitting in front of a screen pressing buttons and getting reactions quickly for many hours, they get used to and their brains get used to rapid responses?” (Settle, 2008)   In another article, also published in 2008 in Atlantic, Nicholas Car asks the question “Is Google making us Stupid?” He talks of his own experience with the wired world and how it is affecting him, “And what the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the net distributes it: in a swift moving stream of particles”. (Car, 2008)  Further to this are a number of books that have been published recently dealing with the same theme;  iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, or,  The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future,  or,  Distracted: The Erosion of  Attention and the Coming Dark Age.  Clearly the effect of technology on attention span is being seen as a serious issue.

For teachers, many of whom did not grow up with computers and would not consider themselves ‘wired’ the situation that these writers describe is disturbing. If technology is creating in students a need for rapid responses and is changing their ability to concentrate how will it affect the future of education?  Wesch admits that, “At times I feel desperate for their attention.  I rush to amuse them with jokes and stories as I swing, twist, and swirl that gyro mouse…hoping to dazzle them with a multi-media extravaganza”. (A Vision of Students Today (and What Teachers Must Do), 2008)   It has become common to hear how teachers are moving  from being the ‘sage’ to the ‘guide’, but it appears now that we will need to become entertainers. Some of the problem may be solved as wired students become wired teachers, but of the larger problem, the possibility that technology is effecting attention span and concentration there is no easy solution.  Technology is too much a part of our society and far too useful for peoples’ acceptance of it to change because of a possible side effect.  Teachers will need to change their focus from teaching and passing information to helping students develop skills in critical thinking.  We can assume that information is available and easily retrievable, our job will be to help them learn how to judge and separate the useful and relevant from the useless and irrelevant.

A Vision of Students Today (and What Teachers Must Do). (2008, October). Retrieved October 2009, from Encyclopaedia Britannica Blog:

Car, N. (2008, July / August). Is Google Making Us Stupid? Retrieved October 2009, from Atlantic:

Settle, M. (2008, August 15). Is Computer Use Changing Children? Retrieved October 2009, from BBC:

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 9:03 am }

I enjoyed reading your commentary. I think you have mentioned several relevant points that educators need to reflect upon.

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