More Thoughts on Technology and Cognitive Science

As I struggled through studying for a recent exam, I realized another impact technology potentially has on cognitive science: memory.

I used to thrive when faced with multiple choice tests. While we can debate about the effectiveness of this type of assessment on learning outcomes, for me at least I’ve always had a good memory and I looked forward to courses with these easy grade boosters. I was one of those lucky students, I’d take notes, but I never needed to use them. It always seemed that the act of just writing things down, wrote these in my brain somehow. How things have changed! For this particular course in question, I chose to go full digital, even choosing to purchase a digital text book which I could use on my smartphone and tablet. While I used the notes function built in the app and even took extra time to study, I found this experience to be a challenge were my old study habits would fail.

Many of you can probably relate to this phenomenon. Just a few years ago, you could probably easily recall many of your friend’s phone numbers by heart, but now you probably find this a challenge or would be completely lost without your smart phone.

This is a widely debated topic:

This article discusses some interesting points on memory in the digital age. Research indicates that the experience I’ve recently had is linked to the fact that much of our information is stored in computers so we have less of a need to remember. While that can be seen as a negative side, as this author points out, through social media and other forms, we’re storing a lot more ‘memories’ than we ever did with our brain. This can allow us to recall experiences we would normally never remember.

This debate has been infused in educational circles.

The above article discusses recent debates surrounding allowed tools in exams. I remember when I was in high school, the use of calculators was a highly debated topic. The same is now happening regarding use of search engines. The argument against the use of these tools is that it prevents students from using memory. Proponents argue that we need to adapt to the digital world and encourage critical use of these tools.

These tools will not disappear any time soon, so learning and assessment of learning needs to adapt to incorporate these tools. If the goal of learning is to be able to adapt skills and knowledge to various situations, the best use of our time is to incorporate these tools in learning. Critical thinking and evaluating information sources are far more important skills in the digital age than memorizing facts.

We still have a long way to go in developing online educational tools that have similar benefits to the traditional face to face classroom. This is no reason to block the tools. It is an amazing thing that these tools are forcing a high order evaluation and critical thinking than traditional route learning. I’m much happier spending my brain power and space on developing critical thinking than memorization.

So while the digital textbook and noting taking has been a challenge, I plan on continuing down this path. My studying habits will need to adapt. And maybe one day soon technology will adapt to reproduce that noting taking to memory experience I once enjoyed.


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