Continuous Computing … in the Classroom

In an earlier posting I introduced Wade Roush’s interesting experiment to write an article on Social Computing using a blog to capture comments on drafts of the article. The final draft of Roush’s article entitled Social Machines has recently been published in the August 2005 TechnologyReview.com

This article provides a really excellent introduction to social computing ,and if you are new to the concept (and Web 2.0), I highly recommend this. I was particularly taken by the commentary on the pros and cons of continuous computing in the beginning of the article. Roush states:

My boss, Jason Pontin, caused a minor ruckus in May while attending D3, the Wall Street Journal’s third annual “All Things Digital” conference. �At D3, Jason was using his laptop to file blog � posts “live” from the conference floor. � But on the third day, he couldn’t find a signal. The Wi-Fi network he’d been accessing was on by mistake, a conference staffer told him. �Jason, naturally, wrote a new blog post about the incident (from the hallway this time). Forbidding live blogging at a technology conference, he remarked, “seems a very retrograde move.” Mossberg responded hours later. “It is untrue that Kara and I banned live blogging at D3, from the ballroom or anywhere else,” he explained. “We merely declined to provide Wi-Fi, to avoid the common phenomenon that has ruined too many tech conferences–near universal checking of e-mail and surfing of the Web during the program.”

Constant connectivity has changed what it means to participate in a conference or any other gathering. Using chat rooms, blogs, wikis, photo-sharing sites, and other technologies, people at real-world meetings can now tap into an electronic swirl of commentary and interpretation by other participants … . There are trade-offs: this new information stream can indeed draw attention away from the here and now. But many people seem willing to make them, pleased by the productivity they gain in circumstances where they’d otherwise be cut off from their offices or homes.

Yes, but is this the correct decision for students in the classroom? I know this sounds paternalistic, but I�ve seen students playing on-line games in class, which I have trouble believing is a productive use of their time. Do we need to consider shielded classrooms (I ask only partially tongue-in-cheek)?

I have no doubt that constant connectivity can be used productively, but it can also be a huge distraction. How can we structure student uses of connectivity in the classroom? At a minimum, instructors should be able to tell students to turn off their email, etc. while in the classroom in the same way that we ask them to turn off cellphones. Alternatively, it may take redesigning student activities in the classroom so they don’t have the time or opportunity to zone out in a way that’s not productive to the learning process.

Hmmm, maybe we should be doing that anyway.

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