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.


Anonymous said...

I'm concerned about the reasons we use technology; specifically when we use technology to be more time efficient rather than effective in our teaching. Technology is great if we use it to be more effective (present information in multiple formats, dynamically able to check for the learner to apply information to solve a problem. If technology is used to be more efficient in learning, though, then effectiveness and deeper understanding are the price we pay for speed in learning. I'm also concerned that we do not assess for understanding, application and/or retention of knowledge when adding technology to the curriculum.

Anonymous said...

When man left the farm and moved to the city, he lost many skills (hunting, farming, etc) and ways of thinking about survival.I'm sure at the time, a certain population thought that the the loss was a disaster. Same thing here. If the changes are not adaptive, technology will change to make up for the deficit. I'm not too worried about the changes outlined in the article.

Anonymous said...

The purpose of technology in education is to enhance the learning experience not shorten it or circumvent competence or become a short cut to providing information at the cost of educaiton. I spent many years researching teaching environements -- classroom and online courseswork -- both enhanced with technology -- to see if they can be made comparable. Technology can certainly simulate and be interactive but there always appears to be a deficit of some sort when effciency is the name of the game instead of learning.

Jennifer Hunt said...

I definitely find a decline in critical thinking and in instantly accessible fund of knowledge for our residents. They rely heavily on just looking things up instead of making it part of their memory. They are also quicker to order special tests than to think hard about a case and process through a differential diagnosis.

Anonymous said...

Technology, as a tool for learning, is selling for a high price. The speed of automation and immediate results are robbing the mind of analysis and synthesis. Intelligence is being sacrificed!

Neil said...

We should be careful not to put all use of technology under one label.
The way educators need to think is "what do i need the learners to take away from this session? How can I facilitate that process and make the session most effective and efficient" If a specific technology can help in that process, use it.

Lets take some examples:

Case 1.
You are going to talk to your students about Krebs cycle. In the past this has been a difficult topic and you decide to make it more real to the students. You want to distribute beforehand a few questions regarding the clinical implications of Krebs Cycle e.g. "The primary source of energy in the brain is glucose. Would brain function be reduced in people suffering from vitamin B (thiamine) deficiency?" You also want to see if the students have grasped this topic. You want to give a small quiz to test their understanding.

You could do all this with paper and pencil or you could distribute the questions by e-mail to the students. you could include a link to appropriate online reference material and you could do an audience response system in the class to see if the students understand the topic.

Case 2.
You want to teach students about rheumatic heart disease. This would include understanding the pathophysiology and clinical findings of mitral stenosis. It is unlikely that you will find a live patient with mitral stenosis for the students to examine. You use a virtual patient simulator so they can auscultate the opening snap, the diastolic murmur etc.

Technology used appropriately enhances education, makes it more efficient and effective. If the technology does not work for your class, it is probably being used inappropriately.

Steve said...

In trying to defend technology, Neil has given us a perfect example of why using technology may reduce critical thinking skills. In his "case1" the teacher does all the thinking - He thinks of the questions rather than asking the students to make the connection, He picks an article rather than asking the students to do a search and find an article then analyzing the many rather than his hand picked article. the ease of giving that perfect article and making connections for students without much effort on their part. I'm not sure if that is great teaching or not.

Anonymous said...

Response to the prior comment. If you read Neil's comment the comparison was between using paper and pencil for distributing the question/article/quiz and doing it using technology. This is the exact point where people get confused.

I think Neil's point was NOT whether you (or the students) create a question OR whether YOU or the STUDENTS find the article.

That should be decided BEFORE making a decision re' using technology.

The key thing is the think about how you want to facilitate learning. Once you decide how, think whether technology will help.
In case one if a educator wanted to distribute a question would it be better to use technology or paper?

Anonymous said...

Looks like someone needs to develop critical "reading" skills before helping students develop critical "thinking" skills!

Neil said...

Thanks to the Anon poster above for clarifying my post.

Steve's post above makes a terrific point of how technology gets a bad press when it might really be the teaching method that might be at fault. I wish I had thought of posting that under Steve's name as a plant!

While I thought up of that example (I have never had to teach the Krebs Cycle), it would make a great topic for the next blog. When you have to facilitate learning of a particularly "dry" topic like Krebs Cycle(apologies to my basic science colleagues) what techniques do people use to help the students?
* Is it ok to pose a question (not answer) that will help them understand why this topic is relevant to a future physician?
* Is it OK to point them to some resources that explain the topic better, or are written for their level of training or focus on the content they need to know?
Would be interesting to know what others feel.

Christine said...

Nobody has addressed the "laptop" distraction factor. Many schools are so proud of having their classrooms "wired" and giving their students the opportunity to go online... but this study seems to suggest that being "wired" during classtime is a distraction rather than a help, that is if the purpose of the class is to interact and learn from the professor. This is very consistent with what I've read about "Cognitive Load Theory" (CLT) and is something we should not ignore.I'll attach a short article on CLT in the summary. I'll need to make a special search as most articles on CLT are complex, long and use a lot of educational jargon.

Neil said...

Recently I read about the eMints Program (Missouri) integrating technology with inquiry based learning in 3rd and 4th grade classrooms. They used the students scores on standardized tests as outcomes and showed very consistent results with the eMints students outperforming the non-eMints students many categories - especially math and social studies. The key feature of this program was the 200 hours of professional development that each teacher got. This again highlights the need for good instructional methods when using technology.

Anonymous said...

I would support the concept of first thinking about what you want to teach-eg anatomical pathway, differential diagnosis, interviewing,or issues re system of care ,etc and then attempting to see how technology advances both content knowledge and promoting higher order manipulation of the material through problem-solving . Eg talking about interviewing may be less effective than showing video prompts for discussion or reading re integration of care across disciplines may be enhance by a videoconference with rural providers doing it.
For me the struggle is to have the time to think through and pilot teaching innovations in our frenzied practice enviroment.

Anonymous said...

Although I believe learning facts and analyzing problems are well taught through technology,I worry that how we communicate with another teacher or learner that we can't see may be quite different than if we were in a room together. I think it is very hard to feel as committed to the teacher -learner relationship.That greatly impacts values and attitudes beyond analyzing, synthesizing, and applying information we learn. Let us hope that as we move to more and more technology, we don't lose our closeness and mutual respect.

Carrie T said...

I would like to second the comments of the last responder. I do think technology can be a great tool, but I am concerned about the potential of separating human interaction from the teaching and learning process. I teach an online course and we have had some great online discussions, but I don't know anything about the 8 people in my "class". We have tried to personalize, but it just has not taken. If this was how I entered teaching, instead of at the end of my career, I never would have stuck with it. I am still in touch with students that I taught 20 years ago. That would never happen with these online students.

Barbara Swimmer said...

Technology is not "the evil empire". It is a tool. We have always had technology of some sort. Even stone tools were the techno;ogy of the time.Having lived through the era of reel -to-reel tape machines and mimeographs, I personally applaud Powerpoints and xerox copies, not to mention DVD's. Now, if only some 10 yr old would teach me to use an I-pod or MP3 player, I would be very grateful.

Neil said...

I could not agree with you more.

It is difficult to substitute face to face contact with "technology".
But it is what you do when there is face to face contact that is more important. A lecturer droning on for an hour in front of a group of 100 students is probably not doing education any service. The intructional technique is more important.

In the same token, how you use technology is more important than the technology itself.

Daniel Sweeney said...

This is in response to Christine's concerns about use of Laptops by medical students during presentations. Having seen this issue in operation during the FCM course of the last 4 years, I agree that there is impairment in the discussion when laptops are up. During this year when we are in a smaller lecture room that does not facilitate use of laptops as easily, the discussion have been more robust.