Technology and Cognition: Helpful or Harmful?


Personal Technology in Class

The availability and practicality of technology has increased drastically in the last few decades alone. As the development of personal devices has progressed, and social media has increased in popularity, young people are increasingly sucked into a virtual world. This begs the question, is technology hampering or helping us? Especially in a class setting, is it problematic that students are continually “plugged into” their devices and networks? Is it distracting them or providing new and unique ways for them to connect with information?

An article in the student newspaper of Texas Tech connected with students and professors to assess their opinions regarding technology and learning. There are two basic positions. First, the article discusses the negative aspects of technology in class. Several students say that having their phones available to them in study time is detrimental to their attention and efficiency. Not only do students misjudge their own ability to multitask, but they also find themselves going to their phones for distraction when they’re bored in class, or between ideas in an essay. Secondarily, the article discusses the way that personal technology can be helpful to learning. It can provide helpful study tools, such as providing music (although studies looking at music and studying have mixed results, music can often increase positive mood while studying). More significantly, it connects students with a vast pool of information. With just a few taps, students have a world of data and research at their fingertips. Overall, the article doesn’t pass judgement on technology in the classroom, but simply interviews and presents various opinions.

The cognitive ideas behind this article include the idea of parallel processing vs. serial processing. We know that the human mind is capable of doing multiple things at once on a neural level. However, this does not mean that we are good at multitasking. Research has shown that it is very difficult for us to focus consciously on multiple things at once. A specific study cites how those individuals who were heavy media multitaskers (those who use more than one type of media at once were not actually able to multitask on cognitive tasks. Another issue with technology in the classroom addressed in this article is it’s effect on how we relate to others. This study discusses the social distancing that occurs when individuals make excessive use of the internet. Could this have something to do with the lack of involvement that occurs with technology-addicted students? Students who are already prone to social anxiety or shyness seem more likely to be addicted to the Internet. Perhaps these students are the ones that “hide” in their technology instead of participating in class discussions.

Adaptive Communication Technology in the Classroom

Adaptive Communication Technology in the Classroom

While I think that this article prompts interesting discussions, I was concerned that the article didn’t bring up several important aspects of technology in the classroom. First, it did not discuss the use of technology for adaptation and accessibility in communication. How we communicate is certainly an important aspect of cognitive psychology. My younger brother has autism and Down syndrome, and he has made progress in his communication since he began using iPads, Smartboards, and other adaptive technology. The use of images and switches and recorded voice to assist him in communicating in class has been incredibly helpful. Second, the article doesn’t mention the use of technology as a memory aide. I have known many students who use flashcard apps to practice memorization. These apps quiz you on information and cycle through the ones you struggle with. It would be interesting to look into the effectiveness of technology such as this, and how students feel about it.

What do you you all think? Does having access to technology help or harm your cognitive functions in class?

One thought on “Technology and Cognition: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. jfreud

    I agree with you; technology has the ability to really enhance our cognitive functioning in class, but that is contingent on us using it properly. If we are using it assist and enhance our communication and productivity or synthesize information in a faster and more effective way, then I think it will definitely help us a lot. However, if Twitter serves a distraction to us while we are in class or in the library studying, then I think we have come to a point when technology is harmful. Because in that situation it is impeding on our ability to complete the task on hand due to competing cognitive resources. I know that I could probably get my studying done a lot faster if I didn’t get distracted by something I see online every several minutes.

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