harlan logo

New York Times Article Calls for a “Digital-Age Upgrade” in the American Classroom

August 9th, 2011

recent opinion piece in the New York Times highlighted the need to revamp the traditional American classroom to meet the rapidly changing culture of technology. The article specifically focuses on the research of Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, who sets the tone by pointing out that “65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.”
While some educators curse the Internet as a distraction from learning and view evolving technology as an obstacle to overcome, Davidson suggests that embracing digital technology may be more useful for students in the long run. She proposes that teachers alter their methods by encouraging virtual collaboration and even calls into question one of the cornerstones (or nightmares) of any students’ education: the research paper. Davidson asks: “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?”
Of course, not everyone’s embrace is so eager.  Nicholas Carr, in a recent Atlantic Monthly article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, questioned the effect of the Internet – particularly its emphasis on short-form blog and news articles rather than more traditional long-form books and articles – on the way we think, read and process information.  Carr notes that the Internet  encourages “a different kind of reading, and behind [that] lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.”
Davidson might respond, however, that this “different kind of reading” is part of digital literacy and that there is value in encouraging, rather than stifling, the skills gained by participating in Internet culture. She notes: “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”
As students participate in blogging exercises as a part of FantasySCOTUS, I would be interested in hearing from teachers how the quality of their students’ contributions to the blog compares to that of more traditional written assignments. Is a student’s work about, say, James Madison substantially more engaged, well-written and creative simply because of the medium in which the student produced the assignment? Regardless, we look forward to seeing students engage with upcoming Supreme Court cases as they create blog posts and podcasts on FantasySCOTUS.org this fall.
This post was co-written by Allison Myers and Charlie Kruly.