Brave New Classroom 2.0

Brave New Classroom 2.0, hosted by Britannica blog, explores how technology is transforming education. Or failing to do so.

It kicks off with Kansas State anthropologist Michael Wesch’s Vision of Students Today.

Texting, web-surfing, and iPods are just new versions of passing notes in class, reading novels under the desk, and surreptitiously listening to Walkmans. They are not the problem.

. . . They tell us, first of all, that despite appearances, our classrooms have been fundamentally changed. There is literally something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second. While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation.

Too cheery? Read Mark Bauerlein’s Turned On, Plugged In, Online & Dumb.

Students who receive regular computer instruction don’t do any better than other students, Bauerlein writes. A 2004 University of Munich study of the U.S. and other countries found “computer availability at home shows a strong statistically negative relationship to math and reading performance, and computer availability at school is unrelated to performance.” Free laptops? Student learning doesn’t improve.

Young people have lots of opportunities to educate and inform themselves, he writes.

Furthermore, the number of cultural institutions in our country has grown, with more public libraries, museums, galleries, historical sites, and after-school arts programs.  CNN and Fox News play on screens in airports, restaurants, malls, gyms and lobbies.  And, of course, the Internet provides instant access to facts, dates, art works, old books and magazines, daily newspapers around the world, Wikipedia.

. . . No generation has experienced so many techno-enhancements and produced so little intellectual progress.

Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, is the author of The Dumbest Generation.

About Joanne


  1. I read Dr. Bauerlein’s book, and didn’t find it convincing. I’m Gen X and many of the technologies he blames for the dismal performance of Gen Y were not in widespread use when I was a teen. We didn’t have the Internet, cell phones, iPods, or sophisticated video game systems, and my town did not even get wired for cable until my freshman year of high school.

    Yet we did not spend our leisure time in the type of intellectual pursuits that Dr. Bauerlein imagines have been displaced by these modern items. Instead of literature, philosophy, high culture, political activism, or discussing current events we wasted our time on mindless drivel.

    We hung out at the mall or roller skating rink, gossiped on landlines, watched network soap operas, listened to pop music on the radio or our Walkman, flipped through “Tiger Beat” and other teen magazines, played video games on our Nintendos or Segas, and so on.

    And I really don’t think my parents’ generation was all that much different as teens, although the technology was obviously even more primitive.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    I think it is how the technology is used. My son is at a private high school that requires a computer. The school told the parents (as I already knew) that the computer would not help improve education. However, what the computer has done is lighten my son’s backback, give him the ability to gather information from the internet, type his own papers, prepare for college and the list goes on and on…

    I am thrilled he has it. He is one of the lucky ones in my city. He went to a public middle school with a good computer class the four years he was there. His “top 24” high school did not have computers like his middle school. Sad…very sad…

    Oh…his required reading load is pretty heavy, too…

  3. I homeschool, so I’m in a slightly different situation, but one of the main ways that we use the computer with my sons is as a research tool. I frequently assign them a topic to do research on which they need to then be able to discuss or write about. We talk regularly about how to construct successful searches, evaluate the quality of the information one is finding, the importance of source documents and how to deal with conflicting information. One of the nice things for me is that it does take a lot of the pressure off of me to be the “font of knowledge”. I can be sure that they are getting the information they need, but I spend my instruction time really teaching them how to interact with the knowledge they gain. Plus, they are growing into self-sustaining learners. They frequently seek out answers to questions they have via the internet on their own, which is really what you want them to be doing anyways. I would think that teachers would be able to use the internet in similar ways.

  4. Brandyjane says:

    Some parents are surprised that we do not have a computer curriculum at the private classical school where I teach. However, virtually every student at our school has at least one computer at home. We discuss how to do effective online research, but we feel that it is their parents’ job to teach them how to use the computer. We are extremely academically rigorous, and I honestly don’t know how we would fit in a computer class elective. The lack of a computer course hasn’t caused our graduates any problems in college or beyond. We aren’t anti-technology. I do EVERYTHING on my laptop, and our older students may bring laptops to class if they choose. We’ve just found that we have higher academic priorities. If our demographics were different, if we had many students who don’t have regular access to a computer, then I would say that we need to find a way to fit it into our curriculum so that our students wouldn’t be at a technological disadvantage. Nevertheless, I would still say that the absolute top priority should be on teaching the basic academic subjects.

  5. Michael Wesch says,

    “ . . . . . most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find . . .”

    Well, not since the invention of the printing press, and that was a long time ago. Can’t Wesch keep up with the times?

    Of course I don’t know much about other subjects, but in math the situation is very clear. All the information you need in a normal math course is bound up in a neat little portable package, called a book. The information is not only there, but it is organized. It’s not always organized as well as it should be, of course. I am rather painfully aware of that. But it’s there. Also in the book are examples and lots of problems. Again there is plenty of fault to be found with the examples and problems, but they are there.

    Finding information is not a problem in a normal math course. Learning it is.

  6. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation.

    Didn’t Socrates back in Ancient Greek encourage discussion and participation?

    Whether you running a classroom through discussion and participation or by top-down knowledge I think depends on the subject matter to be mastered and the teacher’s own style (or the school’s style, or whatever other entity has the deciding vote here). For example, law school teaching classically relied on the Socratic method. Meanwhile, I suspect first aid teaching will always consist of top-down authoritative knowledge, because of the ethical problems with inducing heart-attacks/choking/arterial wounds so that students can make up their own knowledge about how to treat life-threatening problems.

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