Friday, October 19, 2012

What's the cost, benefit of electronic devices?

A friend asks if all that electronic stuff is harmful.  Is a family bent over a tablet any better, even as good as, lawn games, Scrabble, group games and activities such as charades?  Since my family is using a fair amount of electronic games, video and computer, Wii and iPad, I am interested in the question and any good answers.  However, another related question is how much handicap does a person carry if they have no access to computers and related devices?  Will my child be forever behind if I can't afford such equipment for him?

The book "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steven Johnson, an excellent science writer, is a good one for exploring parts of the games good or game bad question.  That book and the fact that many universities are finding a way to open departments or collaborations between departments that work on games may help an interested inquirer to see that games can be useful as a hobby, as a serious pursuit, and even as an aid in learning nearly anything.  

You may have heard the expression "There's an app for that".  These days, there may well be a small program that runs on your computer, tablet like iPad or Kindle Fire or other tablet, or smartphone for nearly any purpose.  True, games for amusement are getting all the headlines, such as the Angry Birds series sold by a Finnish company.  However, there are thousands and thousands of apps for nearly any purpose. Researchers are working hard to find ways to monitor blood pressure, keep tabs on the stock market, assist in learning a foreign language, cook a new dish and assist with many other activities.

But what about the other worry?  If my child has not had a chance to use a computer or other currently stylish device, will that mean a handicap, a loss in school and maybe even in later life? I don't think so.  I do hope that through school, church, the local public library or some other way, children get a chance to try all the devices.  Possibly the most interesting statement of children learning electronic devices without instruction is the "Beyond the Hole in the Wall" in which Sugata Mitra has shown what motivated kids age 10-12 can learn by relying on each other and experimenting.

From the introduction by Nicolaus Negroponte, famous MIT educator:

He offers a very different view of learning, one which involves the collective learning of mixed ages, achieved without a teacher. He has shown that a critical mass of illiterate 10- to 12-year-olds can conduct exercises of a level of difficulty that would otherwise require an eighth- to 10th-grade education. He lets these children teach each other, self-organize and explore in a manner more akin to the organization of a sports team than of a classroom.    There is a great deal to learn from Sugata's 12 years of experience with the Hole in the Wall project. To me, the most notable idea is that children are far better at organizing themselves than we assume. Much of the world is discoverable, which is how we all learned from the time we were born until around age 5, when our more formal education began. We interacted with our environments to acquire language and common sense. We acquired so much knowledge during those years that we learned many things about manipulating the world and even some about manipulating

Mitra, Sugata (2012-01-24). Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Kindle Locations 47-55). TED Books. Kindle Edition.

Yes, my kid may be pitied if he doesn't have a cellphone.  Of course, he may be pitied if he doesn't wear Calvin Klein jeans.  However, if he wants to learn to use the modern devices, it will take him a very short time to master them.  That is also true of Aunt Jeanette, although, in truth, she may not be as motivated as he will be.

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