Today, technology is virtually inescapable, but has it improved education and learning? Is it possible that the ways in which we use technology have made us worse readers? Are we all becoming a bunch of non-critical readers with eight-second attention spans (Maybin)? In order to even attempt to answer these questions, as well as the essential question above, one would have to define literacy. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “literacy” refers to “the ability to read and write,” and also to “competence or knowledge in a specified area.” These definitions didn’t help me as much they did give a sense of direction as I tried to answer these questions for myself.
I think it’s safe to say that I was once an avid reader before I got my first smartphone. I would read the Harry Potter series over and over again during car rides to and from school, sneakily pore over the Hunger Games trilogy in Math class; you get the picture. Reading pretty much took up all of the time I would use to devote to long-form text. Today, I often weigh whether or not fan fictions on Wattpad and the comments section on my favorite YouTubers’ newest video count as what would be considered “reading.” I like to think of them as “fast food for the brain,” as technology can be considered both good and bad for you.
A lot of research shows that, depending on how it’s used, technology can actually enhance your learning experience. Technology gives us quick access to a large volume of information that was unimaginable not long ago. But new technologies also create new concerns, perhaps because we don’t yet understand its impact. Some studies suggest that technology can support teaching and learning (Using Technology to Enhance Teaching & Learning). Other studies suggest that young Americans are turning to the Internet instead of using their textbooks (Zickuhr). This can be alarming to some because there is a lot of junk on the Internet, in the form of fake news, biased political articles, etc. Perhaps it’s more about educating learners on how to be informed users of technology so they know how to evaluate the information, whether reliable or not. It’s no surprise that a lot of textbooks have companion apps and websites; even the ITGS textbook we’re using for class has its very own companion site. Publishers know learners want to supplement their learning in this way, so publishers make good use of the available technology.
In an article I read by the University of Washington, Stephanie Harvey realized in 2002 that her classroom had mostly fiction books around for her students. But adults read a variety of both fiction and nonfiction, so she recommended using online resources to give students a variety of materials. This can actually motivate students to use the Internet to read more and learn on their own. Many professors and teachers, especially here at Mid-Pac, know that they can (and should) integrate technology into their classrooms. But why utilize social media, blogs, YouTube, and other such resources that some may consider “time wasters?” Well I believe that it’s important to use what’s relevant to learners as a springboard for their learning.
Social media can be considered the “gateway drug” to consumer products. Similarly, can social media also be used as a “gateway drug” to reading and learning? We don’t read only for academic purposes. I often read because I have a reason to. Other times, I find something so fascinating that I want to know more about, so I conduct my own extensive research. The problem is that the Internet has both good information and misinformation. We’ve been taught many times that questions like “who posted the information,” “what sources did they use,” and “are they experts in the field” are always important to consider in our academic research. If we can’t tell, we must take the information with a grain of salt. But that’s the point; if we’re really interested in something, we make sure it’s from a reputable source. We compare different sources; we question the information. So in a sense, social media, a short article on the Internet, even a YouTube video, can be a starting point of interest.
Another concern, especially regarding social media, is that it may give a false sense of understanding a topic. One could read an article about something and think “I know all about this, because I read about it!” This would be silly. Ultimately, it’s up to us individually to be critical readers and choose to find more and better information about a topic.