Is the digital revolution helping kids study?

November 22, 2010 6:10:46 PM PST
The students with the latest and greatest in digital technology may not have a big advantage over those who do not, when it comes to learning and remembering what they learned.

Research after research shows that our brains are being rewired because of all the technology around us. When we are constantly stimulated by the smart phone, the cell phone, the computer, we don't allow our brains to pause and process information -- therefore we can't retain much. So imagine what it's doing to teens.

For students at Woodside High having smart phones and the likes is the norm, rather than the exception.

"If you look at Woodside or other places, texting is like breathing," says Matt Richtel from The New York Times.

Richtel spent four months at Woodside High in the heart of the Silicon Valley. He found that, for many kids, computers and other gadgets are a distraction to their learning and retention process.

"The concern of the researchers, and this is the bad, is that even if they become technologically proficient, if they are not analytically proficient, if they are not investing themselves in creativity, then what good is the technological proficiency and that's the rub," says Richtel.

Studies have shown that a person's brain has to rest even during the day-- you need downtime so that your brain can synthesize and retain information. But that's not happening among kids who are constantly being stimulated by computers and other devices.

"What's likely to happen is that the brain is not going to get that time it needs to deeply process the experiences that the person has, it's not going to be able to make memories as effectively," says UCSF neuroscientist Loren Frank.

Also when the brain switches from one task to the next, over and over again, it has a tough time staying focused, which makes it hard to retain those vocabulary words or the content of a book.

Regardless, Woodside High works to educate both parents and students to create a good balance between academics and the use of computers.

"There is your, what I term, as your 'candy' technology -- texting and social medium -- and then there's application technology like audio production, film making, which requires absorbed concentration and effort and work ethic," says Woodside High Principal David Reilly.

Student Julio Prado is working on that balancing act.

"It's kind of hard. I'll be on Facebook and I'll remember that I have to read and I say, 'OK, I'm going to stop right now' and you have to tell yourself to stop," says Prado.

"Some technology is brussel sprouts and some is junk food and manage your digital diet is what they say to parents and as a parent, I've tried to take that to heart," says Richtel.

Of course, it's not only the students at Woodside, this is happening across America. What researchers want to emphasize here is that students need to be bored, do nothing, rest, and let their minds wander in order to allow the brain to learn.


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