How can you encourage students to actively engage in using technology as a tool rather than passively receiving information from the technology?

In a sense, this is a trick question. I would teach my students to never “passively receiv(e) information.” Whether reading a book, watching a movie, or looking things up in cyberspace, critical think in essential.The internet is a wonderful tool. It’s range, simplicity, convenience, and ease of use are magical. It is also the least credible source of information available with no checks whatsoever on what is published. The first lesson for any social scientist is to be a wise, informed, and critical consumer of any information source. To the extent that lesson is internalized, the students simply need to be reminded to apply those same skills consistently in their internet use.

In a second sense too, this is a trick question. Technology is rarely conveying information to passive users. Technology is a tool that needs to be directed and those directions need to be continually refined. In important ways, the user is far more a passive recipient of information from more traditional sources of information, be they the New York Times or Fox News. Most traditional information sources are like a hose: you stand at one end and get what comes out. You can choose which hose, but that’s it for chioice. The internet is more like a vast university. It is full of tools, fellow seekers of information, and many, many libraries full of resources and information. it’s use is rarely passive.

In a more philosophical sense, education will have to make some major decisions in the near future about how much about how things work needs to be taught. We are rapidly reaching or passing the point where we need to know many basic skills. Whether it’s math calculation, spelling, grammer, APA formatting, or many other things, technological tools exist which make low level knowledge obsolete. There’s a truly brilliant TED Talk which addresses this is a powerful way. In this sense, we may increase the amount of passive information we receive (23 * 46 = 1058, for example) while using that saved effort and efficiency to be much more productive at active higher level (critical thinking) tasks.

In short, I think it is unlikely that technology will do anything other than increase the passive processing of low level information to free energy and time for higher level, critical thinking tasks. To the extent that it truly generates passive information, it is most likely due to the automation of traditional processes.

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