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December 14, 2012

Entertainment? Education? Entercation? Edutainment?

Scott McGibbon

Scott McGibbon is a Project Specialist at the Lear Center.

teacheripad125.jpg"I'm dancing all over the place." Beyoncé describing her new show? A Dancing with the Stars hopeful? Not quite: This is a Pennsylvania middle-school teacher, in a recent New York Times article, describing his attempts to keep his students engaged and paying attention to his lesson work.

A California high school teacher quoted in the article said, "I'm an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention," and noted a decline in the "depth and analysis of their written work," though they're all advanced students.

This bleeding of entertainment into what was once a distinct, separate domain - in this case, formal education - is one of the prime interests of the Lear Center and exactly what we love focusing our attention on. But with contemporary education, K-12 and above, it seems as if it's the teachers who are suffering the blood loss.

The New York Times' article weighs in on the results of two recent teacher surveys, one conducted by the PEW Internet Project and the second from Common Sense Media, both of which studied the effect of entertainment media and digital technology on student attention spans and academic performance. Both reports offer a mixed assessment of the impact of media and tech on student learning, with the consensus being that student research skills and self-sufficiency improved with Web and digital tools, but their ability to write, to communicate face-to-face, to employ critical thinking and to complete homework were all hindered under the media and tech onslaught. K-12 teachers, already struggling with ruinous state budget cuts and relentless teach-to-the-test pressure now must also work with tools that undercut some of what they're trying to accomplish on a daily basis.

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