At What Age Does The Brain Begin Pruning Online Learning

How long after high school do we start saying, “Awww, I learned that information from the internet”? Scientific research is adding more data to this much-debated theory.

At What Age Does The Brain Begin Pruning Online Learning

The recent resignation of prominent college professors sparking accusations of censorship – in particular, from public intellectuals– is not the first concern, in my view, that arises from cyber learning. Policy makers, academics, and journalists are all concerned about the increasingly successful cyber learning phenomenon, and the its bad impact on democracy, even that some think that it is the key to their success. In fact, from an academic standpoint, one must do some rudimentary thinking first to understand the pathologies that are at play:

The first concern is the potential bad news of cyber learning in pedagogy. Professors are increasingly being pressured into sharing personal online data and personal posts with superiors as “research,” which opens a Pandora’s box of potentially exposing students to more difficult classrooms due to years of having learned via self-advising the field from their teachers. I have seen these concerns from my own research with professors from Silicon Valley to be overstated, but they are still there, and common misconceptions contribute to those concerns. The second concern is the exploitation of these practices to damage reputations or political goals – in other words, spying on those who disagree with your agenda, of which being in the wrong business. Though these fears are exaggerated, the monetization of these practices has created a market for stories alleging that conservative professors are now being exposed to a space between cultural isolation and online exposure to more “conservative” and “male” colleagues with guns, in an attempt to sow discontent in the future. I have seen academic outlets perpetuate these attitudes and the lack of respect shown to faculty questioning them, who is still seen as “political.”

Furthermore, I have made the distinction between academics who have taken their awareness of social media on their students to create difficult classrooms, and those who make a conscious effort to create problems with it. There is a much bigger line between the two. Most undergraduates put Facebook and Twitter on by default. Enforcing separate classrooms is nearly impossible, and I usually preempt the creation of any conflicts by assuring them they are fine and that this is the right way of learning.

Academics who work in an information office are readily aware of the need to be unifying online education. A PhD student from a prominent department once told me that her English Professor was the source of another large class we were having, but they could cut down on his supervision so that it did not cause a disruption in the class.

Fortunately, I have never experienced any problems on that front, though I suspect my Middlebury colleague’s personal Facebook account and the current college situation might be a different matter.

On the other hand, a research colleague of mine recently met with some students to discuss making an ongoing “cross-curricular” effort, that would involve searching for difficult assignments and assignments that would mean a real time investment, but not enough to count as an actual class. This project is described as “successful” with a lot of repertory that can be brought out if there are any unforeseen problems.

Of course, we’ve also seen the ability of researchers to remotely find students who might wish to join them. All that talking through paper assignments and actual problems was much less efficient when online communication was much slower. But if researchers are looking for students for a review, then it is likely that the benefits of the relationship outweigh the negatives.

From a public relations standpoint, online education is not all bad. It is a very effective way of reaching people who have been lost from the public’s attention, and their ignorance is extremely interesting. Such student engagement has been demonstrated time and again, most recently in Nazi studies and postmodern, novel study of comparative literature. The focus on controversial events can continue to keep schools relevant to their student populations and focused on teaching important critical thinking skills.

There is still a lot to be studied about the development of the social media space from a policy perspective. It is my hope that the time of the market does not drive education away from public forums. Online education continues to provide alternatives that could replace real time teaching. As people and students become more accustomed to their online education, schools should focus more on enhancing it in order to make it a true learning experience.

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