I watched a news report on American television in 2011 that featured university educators bemoaning the fact that their students were exhibiting “Attention Deficit Disorder” (ADHD) in the classroom. Lecturers were shown admonishing students not to “text” during classes and not to use their cell phones, so they can devote their full attention to the presentations of their professors.
It was then surmised that our beloved portable electronic gadgets are the reason for the short attention spans exhibited by many students today.
While this article doesn’t focus on “major gift fundraising” directly, I feel compelled to address it. I studied a related topic in some detail in the mid-1990s. Through that research, I was able to create a case for support that quite literally raised millions for a significant nonprofit children’s project in Dallas, Texas.
In brief, while we can argue technologies like computers, iPads and tablets, mobile phones and the like contribute to short attention spans – or more properly, our obsessive use of them contributes to short attention spans – it did not start there.
One can trace the issue back to children watching programs on television, including such genuinely well-meaning broadcasts as “Sesame Street,” a highly regarded educational show that began in the 1960s.
Dr. Jane M. Healy wrote an insightful book about early childhood development and education called, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It.
Drawing on neurophychological research, Dr. Healy discusses:
“… how growing brains are physically shaped by experience; why television programs – even supposedly educational shows like Sesame Street – develop ‘habits of mind’ that place children at a disadvantage in school; why increasing numbers of children are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder; how parents and teachers can make a critical difference by making children good learners from the day they are born.”
One of the takeaways I gained from Dr. Healy is simply that one must seek balance in life. Don’t let television and new technologies serve as your children’s “babysitters”; be sure your children – and from an early age – have adequate “hands-on” learning experiences and interaction with others “real-time,” not just through the medium of their technological gadgets.
Having said that, I wouldn’t suggest hampering your children by NOT encouraging them to learn new technologies. To do so would reduce their chances of success in modern life. There are so many good applications of new technologies; they outweigh the bad. And, the trend of using new technologies across all sectors of society continues to grow, not to decline.
I close with four items of information. First, a study by Teenage Research Unlimited found, “Students Like to Learn with Mobile Technology.” “Students who use these mobile devices in the classroom express a stronger interest in learning subjects like science and math than those who do not.” That is an excellent argument for the good that “gadgets” can do.
Second, Mallory Smith has written for Futurist, “Technology is Improving Education” (January 6, 2013). “Technology is shifting the focus of educational practices to be more about tailoring learning to the student’s specific needs. Learning tools and curricula are increasingly customizable , making it easier for every student to find a learning method that works for them.” Third, the National Environmental Education Foundation has produced a video that is posted on YouTube (5:28), discussing the use of technology and “gadgets” in the wilderness (the best of both worlds for many), “Using Technology to Connect Students & the Environment.”
Last but not least, I enjoyed Rebecca Levey’s article for Mashable, “Don’t Fear Your Kids’ Technology Use; Embrace It” (March 22, 2013). “If you’ve been reading the news lately, you might feel overwhelmed with thoughts of technology anxiety and the possibility that the shiny little device in the palm of your child’s hand is just a gateway to harm. I always answer these questions with the same opening line: You are the parent, and a screen doesn’t change that.”
For who still believe there is trouble ahead vis-a-vis our use of gadgets, see the next page of my blog, “The Flip Side.”