System Overload!! The Implications of Short Term Memory On Classroom Technology Use

March 24, 2016

I'd like to speak to a topic that is becoming increasingly important in classrooms across the world as more teachers begin to adopt technology use and incorporate it into their curriculum.  The topic I’m talking about is short term memory, and it applies not only to technology use, but to learning in general.  

 

All too often I hear of teachers who get frustrated with students who are unable to use a certain technology tool to complete a given task in a predetermined amount of time (for example, a teacher might ask students to use a technology tool such as Google Slides to create a presentation about a topic during a single class period, or over two class periods).  This results in incomplete student work and, subsequently, poor grades.  The other result of this dilemma is frustration- experienced by both the teacher and the students.

 

So, what can be done to solve this problem?  Should teachers stop requiring student use of certain technologies, and go back to paper and pencil assignments?  Should schools mandate students take classes in educational technology use?  A consensus regarding these questions cannot be reached until the root of the problem is determined.  The good news is I know the root of the problem, and I want to share it with you.

 

The root of the problem revolves around the short term memory capabilities of humans.  We all process information similarly, and are subject to overload when presented with an too much new information.  That is the reason why students often fail to complete educative tasks that include both learning new information and learning how to use a new technology is because their system is being overloaded.  The student not only has to process newly learned information related to the subject at hand, but also how to use a new technology tool to present what they have learned.  This can be extremely stressful to any budding learner, as they view it as an obstacle to their success.  Most devastating is that when short term memory is overtaxed, it prevents much of what is learned from being transferred into their long term memory- the ultimate goal of any educative activity.

 

To remedy this problem, I suggest you take away the obstacle by setting aside a day for your students to learn the technology tool.  The best part is that the students will have fun in the process of learning the tool.  Here is how I do it:

 

First, I ask my students to think of a topic they love and of which they posses knowledge, such as a hobby.  Next, I tell students they will be use that topic to learn how to use a new technology tool.  At that point, I begin teaching students how to use the technology tool- how to locate it on their computer or on the web, where to click, how to upload a file, how to share their work, etc. (if you haven’t gathered it already, I am sure to master the technology tool prior to this lesson- that is a must).  After I go through the basic functionality of the tool, I task students with the following (feel free to adjust this part to fit your needs):  Tell me why your topic is important to you.  Why do you love it?  What aspects about your topic is most important to you?  Next, I tell students to take advantage of the unique features of the technology tool.  For example, if the tool is Google Slides, I tell them to organize their information into logical sets or sections and put each set of information on it’s own slide.  I also remind them of the ability to add insert pictures or YouTube videos to a slide.  Lastly, I walk around the room helping students with troubleshooting issues related to the tool, not the information.  Therein lies the beauty, the focus of the class period is to learn the tool, and nothing else.

 

This method of technology integration works extremely well, especially with the most marginalized and underprivileged students whom lack prior experience with technology.  If you are willing and able to take a break from your subject-related standards for a day, I promise you it will be time well spent, and you will thank yourself in the future!

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