Posts Tagged ‘Mark Prensky’

I want an iPad

January 19, 2011

Fleur Britten writing in The Sunday Times looks at the phenomenon of young children (i.e. under the age of five) using iPad.  Her discussion ranges over familiar themes:  the dangers of addiction, the question whether using iPad reduces the amount of physical activity, the value of interactive devices in cognitive development and in learning problem solving skills.  It’s a new device but the issues have a familiar ring going back to the debate about the educational value of television.

I thought it might be interesting to look at this from the Prensky analysis 0f Digital Natives.  Strangely neither Britten or her panel of experts uses this analysis.  Instead she suggests that it is Apple’s intuitive devices, the icons and the touch screen which means even a very small child can navigate the device.  Certainly there are Youtube videos of small children operating iPad’s.  Is this proof of Prensky’s claim about children being digital natives?  Well, there are just as many YouTube videos showing cats operating iPads.  I’ve never seen a cat looking at a television screen but cats can operate iPads because of the touch screen and the fact that they get a response.  It’s a little difficult to tell from the videos whether these are old cats or young cats, so we could decide if cats are digital natives or immigrants, or if this is determined by their age.

It’s great that small children can operate iPads but like Fleur Britten, I suspect that is a product of the clever design of the iPad.  I would expect older people to be able to operate one just as well.  The fact that one of the parents quotes in the article, believes her child is better at using the iPad in my view proves nothing.  This is one parent’s opinion and it can be explained by the child practicing more than the parent.

Another thought I’ve had occurred to me after my wife remarked about how her one year old grand niece could use a cell phone.  The parents of these under five year old’s are themselves the digital natives of yester year.  Prensky wrote his article ten year’s ago (2001) when today’s young parents were teenagers and certified digital natives.  If they are now digital immigrants, when did that happen?  Surely it is becoming more obvious that digital natives/digital immigrants is just not explaining what is going on.

Practice makes native

July 27, 2010

As we debate the validity of the digital natives/digital immigrants hypothesis, it is undeniable that younger users of new technologies seem more skilled at using it.  My point has always been that some older people can be just as skilled and that there are some young people who can not use computers.  Whatever is going on, it is not a function of a person’s age.

So how do we account for why some people have greater skill in using computers?   I think the answer can be found in the research into what makes exceptional people in any human endeavour: sport, games or more intellectual pursuits.   Anders Ericsson found that the key was practice.  These skills and abilities are achieved by practice. Rather than being the result of an evolutionary advance, (which is how I interpret Mark Prensky’s hypothesis) truly outstanding skill in any field is achieved with long practice which can not be done by cramming over several days but typically takes up to ten years.

The following exerpt from David Shenk’s The genius in all of us sets out the argument quite well:
“For those on their way to greatness [in physical or intellectual endeavours],
several themes regarding practice consistently come to light:

1. Practice changes your body. Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes (occurring in direct response to practice) in the muscles, nerves, hearts, lungs, and brains of those showing profound increases in skill level in any domain.
2. Skills are specific. Individuals becoming great at one particular skill do not serendipitously become great at other skills. Chess champions can remember hundreds of intricate chess positions in sequence but can have a perfectly ordinary memory for everything else. Physical and intellectual changes are ultraspecific responses to particular skill requirements.
3. The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in the brain are arguably the most profound, with a vast increase in precise task knowledge, a shift from conscious analysis to intuitive thinking (saving time and energy), and elaborate self-monitoring mechanisms that allow for constant adjustments in real time.
4. Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, where your current skill level is simply being reinforced, is not enough to get better. It takes a special kind of practice to force your mind and body into the kind of change necessary to improve.
5. Short-term intensity cannot replace long-term commitment. Many crucial changes take place over long periods of time. Physiologically, it’s impossible to become great overnight.

“Across the board, these last two variables – practice style and practice
time – emerged as universal and critical. From Scrabble players to dart players to soccer players to violin players, it was observed that the uppermost achievers not only spent significantly more time in solitary study and drills, but also exhibited a consistent (and persistent) style of preparation that K. Anders Ericsson came to call ‘deliberate practice.’ First introduced in a 1993 Psychological Review article, the notion of deliberate practice went far beyond the simple idea of hard work. It conveyed a method of continual skill improvement. ‘Deliberate practice is a very special form of activity that differs from mere experience and mindless drill,’ explains Ericsson. ‘Unlike playful engagement with peers, deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable. It does not involve a mere execution or repetition of already attained skills but repeated attempts to reach beyond one’s current level which is associated with frequent failures.’ …

“In other words, it is practice that doesn’t take no for an answer; practice that perseveres; the type of practice where the individual keeps raising the
bar of what he or she considers success. …

“[One example of research in this field is] Eleanor Maguire’s 1999 brain scans of London cabbies, which revealed greatly enlarged representation in the brain region that controls spatial awareness. The same holds for any specific task being honed; the relevant brain regions adapt accordingly. …

“[Practice of the kind Ericsson described] requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one’s capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again. …

“The physiology of this process also requires extraordinary amounts of
elapsed time – not just hours and hours of deliberate practice each day,
Ericsson found, but also thousands of hours over the course of many years. Interestingly, a number of separate studies have turned up the same common number, concluding that truly outstanding skill in any domain is rarely achieved in less than ten thousand hours of practice over ten years’ time (which comes to an average of three hours per day). From sublime pianists to unusually profound physicists, researchers have been very hard-pressed to find any examples of truly extraordinary performers in any field who reached the top of their game before that ten-thousand-hour mark.”

Shenk, David, (2010) The genius in all of us, Doubleday, NY pages 53-57.

Ericsson, K.A. and Lehmann A.C. (1996) Expert and exceptional performance; evidence of maximal adaptation to task constraints, Annual Review of Psychology .

Maguire E.A., Frackowiak R.S.J., Frith C.D., (1997) Recalling routes around London, activation of the right hippocampus in taxi drivers, Journal of Neuroscience Vol 17 Number 18, September.

Goggle eyed or google brained?

October 5, 2009

I’ve just heard another journalist riding Mark Prensky’s bandwagon about how electronic technology is changing our brains.  Nicholas Carr has been speaking on Kim Hill’s Saturday radio programme on Radio New Zealand.

His ideas are perhaps most accessible in a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google where he asks “Is Google making us stupid?”.  He begins with stories about the difficulty he has in concentrating on what he has been reading and then citing other people who have the same experience.  Well, add me to that list but unlike Carr, I do not blame Google and the Internet for my own infirmities.  When the book is interesting enough like The Da Vinci Code, I have no difficulty concentrating.

Perhaps more telling is his next remark:

Anecdotes alone don’t prove much.  And we still await the long term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition.

I couldn’t agree more with his first remark, but has he considered that there will not be any experiments or that the experiments will be inconclusive?

His anecdote about Nietsche in the last years of his life, learning to touch type so he could continue to write even though his eyesight was failing, is an interesting one.  Nietsche’s friends noticed that his writing style had changed as a result of this new way of writing, leading Nietsche to comment “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.   Similar anecdotes can be told about the Roman writer Quintillian when he employed a scribe to write at his dictation and about Henry James when he employed a secretary to type at his dictation.  Unlike Nietsche, they found their writing became more verbose.  I don’t think that these anecdotes prove anything at all.  McLuhan said it all, the medium is the message.  The medium is not rewiring our brains.

We don’t ‘low no natives round here

August 21, 2008

I have just attended the DEANZ conference in Wellington, New Zealand and been struck by how criticism of Mark Prensky’s digital natives metaphor has now become mainstream thinking. While it is high time his views were subject to scrutiny and judged for their worth, I would be concerned that some of his less well promoted ideas might be lumped in with the digital natives idea and rejected without being examined.

In particular I refer to his ideas about the merits of cell phones as teaching tools.  While Prensky’s ideas of how cell phones could be used are not developed, he is aware of the huge potential.  I’ve covered this in earlier posts to this blog and in other media, but the reports of how cell phones are being used proliferate in the media.  The New Zealand Education Gazette 11 August 2008 reports how Nathan Kerr of Onehunga High School sends teaching notes to his students’ cell phones.

However, the merits of this initiative are reduced by Kerr’s Prenskian analysis of his project.   Kerr is quoted as saying “The most important thing to remember about the mobile teaching project is that it is student driven, they know a lot more about the type of technology than I do.”  Well, excuse me, but when did we last hear about a student compressing teaching materials and sending it to cell phones?   Surely what Kerr has done shows just the opposite, that he knows more about the technology than they do?  Prensky has a lot to answer for.

The second question about why other teachers aren’t using mobile technology is not answered in the media reports.   The answer to that question does swing the debate back in Prensky’s direction.  Many teachers and school administrators see cell phones as threats, not as opportunities.  Accordingly, money is not budgeted for these new approaches and teachers are discouraged.   When a teacher provides the resources themselves, they are met with obstacles, prohibitions and downright hostility.  As I have said in other posts, there are systemic obstacles to adopting new technologies, not so much the digital immigrants imposing their ways of life on the natives, but a Praetorian guard working to preserve the power of the elite, who talk the need for change while working behind the scenes to prevent any change threatening their way of life.