One of the more controversial claims around “digital natives” is that their brains are somehow wired differently from “digital immigrants”. I’ve posted often here about some of the issues I have with the concept of the “digital native” as generally conceived – this is the 38th post on this blog under the digital native category. See the whole set here.
The current edition of eCampus news has a short feature asking whether exposure to technology is indeed rewiring brains, and what sort of effects it may be having. While some scientists are skeptical that there are significant changes, others do think that some changes may emerge as children learn in different ways – not all changes being something to crow about:
When the brain spends more time on technology-related tasks and less time exposed to other people, it drifts away from fundamental social skills such as reading facial expressions during conversation, Small asserts.
So brain circuits involved in face-to face contact can become weaker, he suggests.
This one is new to me, and not something I’d considered before. Though as I noted, not all scientists are convinced. But as we consider how technology can benefit students, it is worth bearing in mind ways in which technology might actually hold them back:
Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain … calls that analysis and comprehension “deep reading.” But that takes time, even if it’s just a fraction of a second, and today’s wired world is all about speed: gathering a lot of superficial information fast.
Wolf asks what will happen as young children do more and more early reading online. Will their brains respond by short-circuiting parts of the normal reading pathways that lead to deeper reading, but which also take more time? And will that harm their ability to reflect on what they’ve read?
Those questions deserve to be studied, Wolf says.