Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Social Websites Harm Children's Brains

Preminant neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield believes social websites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, instant messaging, computer games, and fast-paced TV-shows) adversely impact the way children's brains get wired. Attention spans are shortened and the ability of future generations to communicate with one another (outside cyber-space) could be diminished.

Lady Greenfield based her comments on conversations she has had with teachers who experienced a dramatic change in the way students learn. I'm very intrigued by her observations as they tend to mirror my own experiences here at the community college level.

I've written a few blogs about critical skills and the desire expressed by employers to find more employees with these skills. Many industries are finding a decided lack of applicants who can think through a problem in a critical manner.

Several of the health faculty I work with confirm a similar phenomenon in their fields. Students are able to learn the material but more and more seem unable to apply the knowledge. Case in point; a health student takes a patients blood pressure and notices that it is high. The student then takes the blood pressure again in a few minutes, sees the patients blood pressure continues to rise, but is unable to tell the faculty what he or she is supposed to do next.

My theory is the students of today are grounded in cyber-space where immediate feedback occurs. If a young person is playing a video game and makes a mistake, the game ends and the student starts over again. If the young person is using a website of some kind and makes a mistake, there is an immediate error message posted telling them what they did wrong and how to correct it.

Many of today's youth are unable to operate outside the immediate feeback loops of cyberspace. They can operate only so far as they receive a stimulus. Many young people today are unable to make a decision in the absence of a stimulus.

I written the other day advocating support for teaching high school shop class. When you think about it, shop class covers resource management, analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, eye hand coordination, and job skills training. In addition, it gets students away from the iPods and cell phones long enough to experience the world minus feedback loops.

Lady Greenfield has the reknown and credentials needed to get this issue to the forefront. I wish her well in her efforts and hope that we can apply some of her work to our efforts here in the Cincinnati area.

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