I was reminded of some of the activities my peers and I engaged in during our school lives (BC - before computers). One of the most powerful technologies was 'paper'. We had many inappropriate uses of paper, but the one that seemed to generate the most ire from our teachers was the act of passing notes in class. As I remember, this did not lead to a paper ban, or the pencils and pens that were used to construct the notes.
In his article Tom observes:
"Technology is a tool. Just like a pencil. Just like an overhead projector. Just like a chalkboard, just like a ballpoint pen. I have never ever heard someone ask the question: “I wonder if overhead projectors make a difference in student achievement?” “I wonder if using a whiteboard is better than using a chalkboard?” I wonder why no one looks at books, at notebooks, at desks, at the lights in the classrooms and asks, “I wonder if these things make a difference in student achievement?” No one questions the use of pencils. But they question the use of computers."
Consider also this very ancient quote:
"The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it's not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered."
So which invention was the writer referring to? Writing of course (Plato in conversations between Phaedr and Socrates - http://www.ucalgary.ca/~dabrent/webliteracies/platowri.htm)!
It is the what we do with the tool. Maybe the questions we should be asking are what is the nature of activities we ask students to undertake using the tools, or what pedagogical advantages (affordances) do the tools offer in achieving the learning outcomes. It is clear that in Hong Kong many students are familiar and knowledgeable about blogging, but NOT in an academic context. In recent unpublished research in Hong Kong, it is clear that students require scaffolding to use blogs appropriately in an academic setting. The blogs offer ways for students to share knowledge, use media, receive feedback that can be public or private, and learn what is deemed appropriate in an academic setting (e.g., critical thinking, using supporting literature, and logical argument). There are numerous advantages of using blogs in an academic setting but without a framework and appropraite support to undertake the activity, experience has shown that many such postings become a 'stream of (un)conscious thought' and personal opinion.
I started this blog as a response to the argument by Bauerlein that the use of technologies in the digital age makes our students dumb. Students would no more give up their computers for learning than his generation would have given up books. I don't recall any questions such as, 'do books improve learning?' in recent times. According to Socrates we have it wrong, or maybe we are just asking the wrong questions.