Recently I stood in front of my class, observing an all-too-familiar scene. Most of my students were covertly—or so they thought—pecking away at their smartphones under their desks, checking their Facebook feeds and texts. As I called their attention, students’ heads slowly lifted, their eyes reluctantly glancing forward. I then cheerfully explained that their next project would practice a skill they all desperately needed: holding a conversation. Several students looked perplexed. Others fidgeted in their seats, waiting for me to stop watching the class so they could return to their phones. Finally, one student raised his hand. “How is this going to work?” he asked. (via The Atlantic)
- Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, MIT professor, and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Ourselves, has dedicated her career to researching people’s relationships with technology. Much of her writing has shaped my skepticism for tech-overload and its impact on conversation. In a New York Times column, Turkle wrote, “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits … we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions. We dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”
- what if we focused on sharpening students’ ability to move back and forth between the digital and real world? An ironic benefit of technology is that we can leverage digital devices to capture and teach the art of conversation. All smart phones are recording devices; why not use those to record and assess students’ conversation skills? I’ve noticed that students take critical conversations, debates, and discussions more seriously when recorded. We can use technology to encourage students to strike a balance between digital literacies and interpersonal conversation.
- The next time you interact with a teenager, try to have a conversation with him or her about a challenging topic. Ask him to explain his views. Push her to go further in her answers. Hopefully, you won’t get the response Turkle did when interviewing a 16-year-old boy about how technology has impacted his communication: “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”