How has technology changed students?

Student Voice: How Critical Thinking and Technology Can Coexist

Suchita Chadha is a junior at Emerson College and the author of our weekly “Student Voice” column.

Edtech is here to stay. As educators and institutions adapt their class structure and curricula to incorporate technology, students have found ways to make their learning easier. With only a few taps and clicks, students have access to a whole wealth of research and analysis done by experts and students alike. Often, they need not look any further than the first two or three pages of Google search results to find the information they need to complete their work.

In her essay “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching,” Gayatri Spivak writes of the problems with education (particularly in west Bengal, India) that focus on the rote learning of texts, literary and otherwise. The students are taught singular interpretations of literary works, learning little of what it actually means. In western nations, where, arguably, educators do operate on a different teaching system that encourage interpretive learning, the problem is much the same but with a different cause: technology.

For the college student already drowning in a multitude of assignments, readings, and projects, analyzing fictional texts usually only extends to Wikipedia pages, Sparknotes or Schmoop guides on the work. The more studious groups may also read essays written on the subject they wish to explore. On their own, neither of these options are an issue–if anything, they can help clarify elements of the text or breakdown certain concepts the student would have otherwise ignored. The actual problem come with students halting their thinking at the close of their laptop.

Technology enables even the best or smartest of students to take a shortcut on their thinking. Yes, they may completely absorb what they’ve read, and put in a lot of good work in finding appropriate textual support for the claims the internet provided them with. But this means they’re still not using any critical thinking skills. They’re interpreting the guides available to them, rather than the assigned text. The ease of access that comes with technology changed the way students approach classes and assignments, with much of the basic learning taking place outside the classroom.

So what does this mean for teachers? Forcing students into a surprise in-class analysis of the text in question is hardly the answer, being neither beneficial for the student who will be taken off guard, nor the teacher, who’ll facilitate little to no discussion. An all-out banning of technology is also impractical, if not harmful to the children who will need to use them later in life. The better answer then, may be to change the way students are taught, beginning at an early age. It shouldn’t be about teaching students what to look for while they’re reading; instead, they need to be taught how to look for it.

The earlier teachers can start teaching this skill, the less bitter college students are likely to be when Google fails to tells them the answer. For teachers to embrace technology within the classroom, they must first acknowledge the basic ways a majority of students use it for. For literature courses, one way teachers could alter their course would be to direct students to the summaries and additional materials online, letting them understand the basic structure, plot, themes, and symbols of the text. In class, unless there are point of clarifications required, the teacher can spend the time furthering these topics in a more discussion based lecture. Many post-secondary humanities programs today already do this. But for those who didn’t get a chance to develop those skills during their k-12 years, they are at major disadvantage.

“Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there,” writes Kentaro Toyama in an article for the Atlantic. So teachers can neither rely on nor ignore the presence of technology in students’ lives. They must enrich the foundational knowledge technology can provide by teaching students the skills they need to become better readers–ones that can make intertextual connections by themselves–and explore unique ideas other have not already written about.

Suchita Chadha

Suchita Chadha

Suchita is a student at Emerson College, where she is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing for poetry with a Global & Post-Colonial Studies minor. She has been published in Verge Magazine (Canada) and Affairs Today (UK).