Researchers at the highly respected Cranfield School of Management have today published a report called “Techno Addicts” which claims that “technology addiction” is having a disruptive effect on school learning, leading to a widespread acceptance of plagiarism and six out of ten pupils admitting to being addicted to the Internet. Interesting as the results are, they don’t really tell us anything – and are misleading.
For a start the so-called “addiction” is based on self reports in a survey – not an objective study of symptoms and signs of true addiction. As yet, anyone suffering from a real addiction to the Internet (where withdrawal symptoms occur) has yet to be found. If you ask people in a survey if they are addicted to the Internet, there’s a chance they’ll say yes because raising the question makes them think that’s the answer you are looking for.
In addition, the study shows us that around a third of school children find plagiarism acceptable. But when I was at university (well before the days of the Internet….!) plagiarism existed and we all shared each other’s essays and laboratory reports. I doubt if there’s a professor in the land who can hold hand on heart and say they have never plagiarised anything in their schooldays or when at college themselves. The Techno Addicts report actually shows us that seven out of ten children find plagiarism to be unacceptable, which is probably the level it has always been.
True, modern technology has made it easier to plagiarise – and, yes, the Internet is making us question the value of copyright and intellectual property as a whole. But people know, deep down, that their own work counts more than copying someone else’s.
What’s really worrying about this Techno Addicts study is the fact that children are using their mobile phones mostly from within the school toilets, simply because phones are banned from the school. What this is doing is potentially huge damage – far more than copying material from the Internet to get a better grade. Children are now associating the mobile phone with something that has to be done surreptitiously; they are using it in the toilets as an act of rebellion because the head teachers are banning the technology.
Here’s the issue: we are producing a generation of children who are associating helpful technology with something that they shouldn’t use openly. The result is that as they increasingly, furtively use such technology, they will see it as negative, rather than positive. It becomes something “naughty”, something “wicked”. That’s the last thing we want children to consider modern technology to be.
It’s time teachers used mobile phones within the classroom as an educational device. They could use Twitter and SMS text messages as part of learning. Quizzes and tests could be conducted by mobile phones combined with the web, for instance. The mobile phone and the Internet can then be used in a positive way. The result would be that children earn more respect for the technology (and their teachers) and that, in turn, will help reduce things like plagiarism.
Far from saying children are turning into Techno Addicts, what this report shows us is the lack of foresight amongst educationalists and how the divide between teachers and children is ever widening.