Top students tell me all the time that they watch television while doing their homework. This doesn’t surprise psychology professor Larry D. Rosen.
I had always imagined valedictorians and salutatorians buried in their books at night, never looking up from their chemistry homework and certainly not watching “Jersey Shore.”
But Rosen’s own daughter — valedictorian of her high school and now a Yale student — did her homework while watching television, listening to her iPod and trading text messages with friends, says Rosen, author of the new book “Rewired,” which examines how the iGeneration — children born in the 1990s and beyond — learn.
A longtime researcher on the impact of technology, Rosen says we are faced with a new breed of learners for whom doing more than one thing at a time is a way of life.
“This is a generation that has multi-tasked from birth and that is what they do from morning to night,” he says.
And that generation is now running headlong into an education system predicated on focusing on one thing at a time, a culture clash that’s producing bored students, unread textbooks and frustrated teachers.
Students who complained about “death by lecture” now lament “death by PowerPoint” as their teacher’s grasp of technology lags their own.
Rosen understands that many of today’s teachers were educated by long lectures and are intimidated by the fast-changing technologies that students take for granted and use hourly, including texting, which has now replaced face-to-face conversation as the No. 1 way teens communicate.
But, the California State University professor says, “They didn’t develop this technology. We did. We made it easy for them to communicate in a multitude of ways. We should not be surprised that we give them a tool and they want to use it.”
In resisting integrating popular technologies in their classrooms, Rosen says, “Teachers are saying ‘I was bored learning the Bill of Rights, so therefore that is the way I am going to teach it.’ I am suggesting that there are a lot of resources in the world to learn the Bill of Rights that don’t involve listening to a boring lecture and reading a boring book.”
Rosen advises recasting teachers as facilitators who would throw out questions on the Bill of Rights that students would then look up on their smart phones or laptops. He suggests teachers could ask students to find the best resources, the greatest YouTube videos and the most helpful Web sites.
In what might be seen as heresy given the “no-cell phone” rules in schools, Rosen also recommends giving students a few minutes in class period to catch up on missed text messages, citing research that such interruptions don’t harm learning.
“From a purely behavioral point view, we are looking at a generation that can’t not text,” he says.
The latest data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that a third of teens text more than 100 times a day. On average, American teens — 75 percent of whom now own cell phones — exchange 1,500 text messages each month.
When teens are tapping on their phones and their laptops, education is still happening, Rosen says. He used to resent discovering students in his college classes texting until they were able to prove to him that they hadn’t missed a beat of his lecture and were aware of what was happening in class.
“The solution is for teachers to allow students to text in little bursts of time,” he says.
In an hour-long class, Rosen suggests teachers might permit students to engage in a lesson utilizing their smart phones and then give them a five-minute break to catch up on their texts. If students text outside the break zone, teachers should attach consequences, he says.
But what of the research that indicates texting hurts the quality of student writing?
While research shows that students who use more “textisms” — the shorthand lexicon that teens have adopted — do worse on formal writing, they do better on informal writing, says Rosen.
In fact, because of their daily investment in technology, “This generation reads and writes more than any other generation,” says Rosen.
They are not reading as many books, but they are reading Web sites. They are not writing long essays, but they are texting and posting on Facebook, Rosen says.
“What we have to do is channel that love of writing into the classroom,” he says.
Today’s students are immersed in technology every waking moment of their lives except school, says Rosen. And that has to change if schools hope to engage this new generation of wired-from-the-womb students.