Saturday, August 9, 2014

Screen vs. Print, a collision of worlds, not words (Part III)

After reading the last two posts on Screen vs. Print (Parts I & II), you may be wondering: “How can teachers more effectively use books, iPads, and laptops in the classroom?”  Alright, let’s get specific!

What are books good for?

Varieties of books, from Wikipedia

As we’ve seen, print media help us with gradual, linear, reflective thought and reasoning.  When it comes to reading and most kinds of literacy skills, books are definitely the way to go.  Using laptops, iPads, or computer apps will not help reading or most literacy skills.

(Again, for now I’ll go with the National Center for Education Statistics’ definition of literacy, which emphasizes skills like reading comprehension and language use.  Of course, this definition is pretty traditional and does not necessarily include what we have come to call ‘digital literacy,’ which will have to be a topic for a later post).

What are screens good for?

Varieties of iPads, from Apple, Inc.

Screen media, on the other hand, work by helping us rapidly process tidbits of information in nonlinear fashions.  This is good for scanning and multitasking.  How could we most effectively leverage this technology in the classroom?  Well, here are some ideas . . . 

As I briefly mentioned in the last post, screen media are fantastic for simulating spatial and visual skills.

Spatial Orientation: It’s pretty clear that digital maps, which let you zoom in and out, display environmental dynamics, and plot directions, are better than print maps.  Hence, the rise of Google Maps, GPS, etc.  Why not use more digital maps to educate kids about geography and climate science, as National Geographic and NASA have done.

Spatial Navigation: It's well known that pilots train with computer flight simulators.  So why not use something similar to teach driving education to teens, such as using realistic video games that simulate real-life driving tasks?  A video game would certainly be more educational than any book or manual when it comes to driving education.

Spatial Visualization: Speaking of video games . . . Although I was a bit skeptical at first, psychologist Brock Dubbels has persuaded me that some video games work quite well for teaching basic concepts in physical science—e.g., acceleration, parabolas, gravitational pull, etc.  These videos games can help educate kids about physics by simulating sensorimotor experiences—like a skate boarding video game that requires acceleration, jumping, and turning.

For example, some video gaming systems (like the Wii) allow us to experience multimodal interactions (exercising not just sight but also sound and bodily movement).  These interactions can give us very rich, perceptual experiences that exercise many of our senses.  Compared to book reading, playing a video game can better help us visualize many concepts in physical science (e.g., acceleration vs. deceleration), because it give us more sensory interaction and feedback than reading a book does.

Visual Acuity: There is a lot of empirical research showing that playing video games improves vision and hand-eye coordination, and video games can even be used to treat amblyopia!  (However, moderation is key: be aware that overuse of video games can lead to a loss of impulse control and an increase in aggression, so don’t let yourself or the kids overdo it.)

As I hope these ideas show, books and screens can work in harmony when we understand what each kind of media is good for.

But what about the print-screen hybrids?

Varieties of the Kindle, from

Now not all technology falls neatly into either print media or screen media.  Today, there are some interesting in-between cases, such as e-readers.  Come back in a little bit to read the next post on how these print-screen hybrids fall into the overall picture.

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