Monday, February 23, 2009


Every innovation has both an intended effect and other effects that are unintended. Technology is no different. ScienceDaly recently published an article titled "Is Technology Producing a Decline In Critical Thinking and Analysis?" that summarized a study that recently appeared in "Science". In this article, Dr. Patricia Greenwood from UCLA reviewed over 50 studies. One conclusion from this review was that while visual intelligence had gone up, "skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined."

Another interesting finding, particularly relevant to schools that provide and promote the use of laptops, was that "students who were given access to the internet during class did not process what the speaker said as well as student who did not have access". Although many of the studies reviewed were completed with children, the results are no less important for those of us who teach students and residents in the health professions.

Click on the link and check out the summary and find the citation for the full "Science" article.

What are your thoughts about these findings? Does this disturb you? Is it just a predictable evolution of man? Do we need to change our expectations? Should we offer more opportunities for discussion and problem solving? Should we reduce the number of computer simulations? Is it too late by the time students come to us to make a difference? It would be great to hear from readers who grew up in the technology age and also from those of us who grew up with "books". Respond to any of these questions or just react to the findings of this study.


Our January “Education Item from the News” from The New York Times, titled “At MIT, Large Lectures Are Going The Way Of The Blackboard” really seemed to spark some interesting conversation. The vast majority of the 18 posts seemed interested in rethinking Grand Rounds to make it more engaging, while a few others thought that Grand Rounds was OK, and described it as a unique educational venue in which experts presented interesting findings on topics of interest. The perhaps missed point was that “Grand Rounds” was just an example of a teaching venue that might benefit from “rehab”. Individuals do not learn unless they are engaged and teaching formats that rely on “listening” alone as the means of engagement disadvantage many learners.

One of our readers suggested the use of the Audience Response System (ARS) as a means of promoting engagement in large groups. ARS has been found to increase attention on the part of participants and may be a great way to encourage engagement. A few other ideas from our BLOGGERS were to:

  • “Allow invitees to large lectures to submit questions to the speaker a few days PRIOR to the session to allow them to customize their presentations.”
  • “Archive the presentations in a way that can be accessed later by non-attendees and attendees who would like to review.”
  • "Grand Rounds"-- when given by residents and fellows and arranged properly so that feedback can be given-- can serve the very important function of allowing trainees to hone their public speaking skills. It is important for doctors... as teachers... to possess such communication skills.”
  • “Teaching to smaller groups provides an opportunity to engage all participants in a discussion that presumably, enhances an active learning; the lecturer, acting as a moderator, can gauge the level of understanding and effectively ensure the learning of the information”