New book blog: Lessons in digital learning from ‘Minds Online’ by Michelle D Miller

It’Minds Onlines nearly 20 years since Steve Jobs told Wired magazine that throwing computers at American schools was never going to tackle the problem of falling standards.

“I used to think that technology could help education.” he said. “But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent. It’s a political problem. The problems are sociopolitical… The problems are unions in the schools. The problem is bureaucracy.”

A lot has changed since then and Apple has been at the forefront of bringing technology into classrooms across the world, with schools boasting of how learning will be improved by giving every student an iPad.

In a sector as complex as education it’s difficult to prove whether or not technology leads directly to better test scores. Fans and sceptics alike can provide evidence to back up their opinions, children will appear to be more engaged because of course they’ll find lessons more interesting. Not least, institutions that can afford the equipment, or can persuade parents to provide it, are likely to boast the sort of qualities that lead to higher scores in the way the schools are usually rated.

We’re overloaded with prejudices, statistics and anecdotal evidence, but in an age when the home broadband connection going down is a crisis that can prevent even a primary school child finishing their homework, so reliant have schools become on internet access as a fact of life, Michelle Miller provides a refreshing perspective by drawing on the latest findings from the field of neuroscience and cognitive psychology.

In ‘Minds Online’, Miller, who is a psychology professor at Northern Arizona University in the US, looks at the whole question of how digital technology has infiltrated the education sector in recent years, from the infrastructure behind networked schools and colleges to the hardware now commonplace in smart classrooms and the way lessons are delivered through new techniques like massive open online courses.

Aimed at those working at the coal face of teaching, this is a concise, non-technical guide to how the human brain assimilates knowledge. Miller draws on the latest research to explain how attention, memory, and higher thought processes such as critical thinking and analytical reasoning can be enhanced through technology-aided approaches.

This isn’t just theory. It also provides a practical guide to the process of creating a syllabus a fully online course, including how to use multimedia effectively, how to take advantage of learners’ existing knowledge, and how to motivate students to do their best work and complete every task.

And bearing in mind that these days we never stop learning, it’s useful information for anyone who wants to make the most of technology in a training environment.

 ‘Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology’ by Michelle D Miller is published by Harvard University Press, price £20.95, ISBN 9780674368248

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