Technology vs. Intelligence?

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”                     – Albert Einstein

Jason Lodge takes a critical stand against technology in education in his recent article “Education in the information age: is technology making us stupid?” on The ConversationHe underlines his thesis with the argument that modern education cannot keep up with the information overflow induced by the internet. Furthermore, he uses the theory of Daniel Kahneman about two process thinking to explain that education has to change in order to meet the new demands of the 21st century.

The two process thinking model is a complex theory, which can be simplified for educational purposes. There are two different ways thinking or rather to solve a problem. The first thinking process is fast, efficient and instinctive. “System one” as it is called is responsible for detecting patterns and uses automatism to solve problems. On the other hand, “System two” is slow, thoughtful and cognitively resource-intensive, but is responsible for the complex thinking.

 Illustration by David Plunkert. Retrieved from New York Times, 25 Nov. 2011.

In the following video, Daniel Kahneman explains his theory very understandable and only in four minutes:

Lodge explains that technology in providing easy access to information supports “system one” thinking hence the claim that technology is making us stupid. While this statement is very debatable, it is for certain that teachers in the 21st century have to cope with the changes of technology and to this extent the theory of Kahneman is helpful. Educators have to take into consideration how to foster “system two” thinking instead of “system one” in order to teach their students how to solve complex problems.

The New England Complex Systems Institute suggest to shift from “convergent” to “divergent” teaching. These sophisticated terms just denote teacher-centered and student-centered learning: A common and reasonable trend in education. However, student-based teaching environments are still not common sense and many teachers fear the risk to hand over the reigns. Usually teachers are satisfied with implementing group work in their lessons once in a while to check off student-based learning and calm their conscience of following the newest trend in education.

Most of the instructions on the web are informative and display the advantages of student-based learning, however, they remain too generic (like this example). However, there are recent researches examining specific methods on specific content such as the study by Jo Barraket. He impressively displays the adjustments he made to his lessons in order to have a student-based learning experience. For example, in the Ethic lesson, Barraket changed the discussion into a 4-way case study, in which the students are split up to take different opinions and have to defend them in class. This approach is not revolutionary, but it shows how small tweaks in your lesson plan can support student engagement.

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Welcome!

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” ― Jim Jarmusch

2012: This provocative statement about art illustrates how my blog as a Personal Learning Network (PLN), based on the concept of David Warlick, will work. Gathering and filtering information from various sources will be the focal point to provide an anchor point for History and English teachers in High School. This filter of information is even more important considering the facts and figures. In 2011 there were more than 2,1 billion internet users, over 555 million websites and as many as 70 million blogs on WordPress (Source).

Personal experience and preferences will shape the content of this blog. I am studying History and English to become a teacher for Gymnasium since I am from Germany spending a semester year (I prolonged my stay) abroad in the States. Therefore, the content of this blog will partly deal with the German educational scholarship and system comparing it to the American schooling. Furthermore, I have a weakness for movies – easy to recognize if you are familiar with one of the most famous independent directors of the 90s, Jim Jarmusch- which will have a certain influence on the posts of my blog. However, learning and sharing new content about the subjects History and English will be the red line for the content of this blog.


2014: Two years have passed since this blog was created for my “Educational Technology” class in the United States. As the class ended I also stopped to work on this blog. However, I realized that all the papers, lessons, presentations etc. created during my studies can be useful for other teachers as well. In fact, the teaching community is in the progress to grasp the importance of sharing material, PLN’s and blogging in general. The reasons have been inquired by many other blogging educators here, there and yonderThus, I want to take a step in the right direction and jump on the bandwagon.

Many things changed during the last two years. I have not only taken a third subject (German as Foreign Language), but also started another semester abroad in Vilnius, Lithuania. Also my objective switched a little from becoming a teacher at a Gymnasium towards a more intercultural perspective. I want to teach German and English in foreign countries, thus also my blog will focus in second language learning. Furthermore, I want to specialize in literature/theater/film use in language teaching – ironically my first blog post was about film making in school.

Skype in Classrooms

Skype is one of the few technological devices of the 21st century, which adds another dimension to teaching. It offers the possibility to communicate directly with native speakers in the whole world. Suzi Bewell uses Skype in order to connect her grade schoolers with another class in France. They staged a play in French for the native speakers with their support. Bewell establishes a language tandem between classes across the world.

Not only the Skype homepage is a stepping stone into the online learning community since this concept of  virtual language tandems already arrived at the core of education. Fir example,  the University of Minnesota offers different tandems based on virtual Face-to-Face learning. Their registration is limited, which is the downside of this professional approach. However, teachers are not limited to large organizations in order to use skype in  their classrooms.

Most of the teachers, who are trying to incorporate this tool into their lessons, are organizing themselves in blogs. The Edublogger offers a large table with all important information as grade, subjects, contact information and time zone. Trying to set up a Skype session for your class can be really complicated. The logistical problems are overwhelming. For a class presentation in the States I set up a Skype session with my sister from Germany. The time difference complicates to schedule a time between an individual and a class. Imagine to schedule a session with another class from another country with the time difference of six hours or more in the rigid systems of schools.

The gains to go through this trouble are enormous for young language learners. The following are only the most important advantages in my view (Source):

  • It leads students to speak in the target language more than 90%, to vary wider in their word choice and to notice errors quicker.
  • It has a “democratizing effect” in the classroom because it shifts the emphasis on student talking, even shyer ones.
  • High engagement factor because students enjoy to be able to communicate with children of other countries.
  • Authenticity of foreign language communication.

Skype is not the solution to every foreign language lesson as with every technology the context it is embedded in is important. As Mike Levy points out:

“Its [Skype] value in language learning will depend on effective pedagogies to accompany it”

Although it is a powerful tool for teachers in a language learning environment, Skype is not relieving the teacher from the effort of creating a well elaborated lesson plan and preparation. Furthermore, there are also some downsides to Skype such as (Source):

  • Privacy and security issues constitute a completely different problem for specific policies of schools can prevent to use such communication tools in classrooms.
  • It is important to have a specific and elaborate pedagogy
  • Common malfunctions or high requirement of computer literacy of both students and teacher .
  • It is an essential concern for teachers to scrutinize with whom students are talking.

In general, it is worth a try for every foreign language teacher. If the effort is not in proportion to the gains, the worst thing, which can happen, is to waste a lesson.

Breaking the High Score

“ Computer and video games have reached a critical mass. today, nearly every device with a screen plays games, providing interactive entertainment experiences for a wide and diverse population. The creativity of our developers and publishers produces an ever-expanding variety of games to choose from in different formats and across all platforms. Their innovations drive consumer demand for our products, solidifying our industry’s position as one of the strongest and most cutting-edge sectors in the U.S. economy.”

 — Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO,
Entertainment Software Association (Source)

It is no surprise that many modern educators try to incorporate video games into their lessons. Though, most of the times video games remain also in the classroom environment what they are: Entertainment. There are games, which are designed to educate such as Immune Attack, Quest Atlantis or BrainAge². While most of the children in the 21st century do not know this games, they will figure out the simple and outdated game designs of most of these games in seconds. The engaging factor of such games tend to zero because of their low to none entertaining value. The difference between the success of educational games and entertainment games is the financial aspect: “Consumer demand for our products, solidifying our industry’s position as one of the strongest and most cutting-edge sectors in the U.S. economy.” There is no demand for educational games by the public hence the best and most paid designers are not producing such games.

However, there are to many false facts and ignorance blurring the risks and gains of this issue. Game designers are not interested in teaching, but making a entertaining or even addictive game, which on the other hand makes money.Whereas, Educators have usually no clue about the mechanics of games, about the games which are most popular among teenagers or try to force educational value out of anything. In the following, I want to discuss a few of these myths and misconceptions of educational video games.

Most teachers and education professionals do not know the games they are talking about. The web exposes many misconceptions such as categorizing “Half-Life”, one of the most famous Ego-Shooter in the gaming history, as role-playing game: “There may be elements of fighting, but in many instances the player must decide whether fighting, or avoiding the fight, is the best choice” (Jayel Gibson). This simple mistake in categorizing leads to major and important issues such as using games in an unfitting occasion. Especially, World of Warcraft seems to be a favorite pick of educators in order to show how real-life skills can be developed such as leadership, bargaining and communication skills by playing a video game.

 World of Warcraft: Interface of an advanced player in Player vs. Player mode.

World of Warcraft and other well designed games might have a complex and in-depth game design, which require a lot of time and effort to understand. Nevertheless, they do not teach communication or leadership skills for real life occasions. Teenagers are so engaged by the game because it is instantly rewarding them in a large community. Playing the Player vs. Player mode (PvP) for several hours a day to reach the top ten is the motivating factor for many players since every other player on the server would recognize their nick name: An enormous boost in acknowledgement and ego. Players are spending hours to become better, though they are not developing any skills valuable to them in real life.

There is still a huge difference to communicate anonymously over the internet and talking to a person face to face. Eastin and Griffiths talk about the aggressive nature of online communication in a video game environment, which is colloquially called “flaming“. This is only one example to display the difference of social structure between video games and real life. There are many more, which has to be taken into consideration before video games can be used in the classroom. Even though, video games exist for more than 30 years now a proper use in education has still to be found. This blog entry had the purpose to let teachers reconsider the common hype of video games in education.

PS: Here a famous example of ingame communication of World of Warcraft: