November 6, 2010

HOW THE INTERNET AFFECTS OUR MINDS

Discovery - In 2008, tech scholar Nicholas Carr sparked an earnest debate when he proclaimed in The Atlantic magazine that Google is making us stupider. Habitually link-hopping down the rabbit hole of online information, Carr argued, has degraded our collective attention span and threatens to permanently downgrade our intelligence. Rather than reading for context and nuance, the Internet encourages us to skim for fast facts that lack substance. . .

Not only did his Google thesis quickly attract rebuttals extolling the potential intellectual virtues of Internet use, but the Pew Internet Project, in conjunction with Elon University, also surveyed 371 telecommunications experts to help settle the score. Responding to the question of "whether Google is making people stupid," a majority of respondents - 81 percent - countered that the search engine and the Internet is doing just the opposite.

A recent study comparing students' academic performances from classroom versus online instruction in the same microeconomics course highlighted potential pitfalls of the Web as a learning tool. Female students appeared to learn just as well in front of a teacher as they did in front of a screen, while males, Hispanics and academically struggling students' grades suffered from online instruction. "We certainly find that Internet-based delivery of traditional classes has different effects on different types of students," said lead study author and Northwestern University economist, David Figlio. At the same time, Figlio didn't interpret his study results as an argument against online learning. Rather, the results should serve as a warning that online courses might not be a one-size-fits-all resource.

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