Drop-Dead-Simple: Liberation or Captivity #UKEdChat

Lady in chains with arms outstretched to her sides. The chains are hanging from her wrists.
Deep Work - Written by Cal Newport (Drop-Dead-Simple)

Deep Work – by Cal Newport

The topic covered here within this essay is far from being ‘Drop-Dead-Simple‘. I am currently reading a well written book by an author called Cal Newport. The title of this insightful book is called ‘Deep Work’. The book centers around the reader developing an ability to recognise what is and how to perform ‘deep work’. The book comments on our current world surrounding us with much noise and distraction; which hinders our ability to concentrate for long periods of time. However, it was not the topic of the book itself that has spurred me on to write this essay, but a footnote Cal Newport had placed within his book at the bottom of page 31. The footnote is as follows:

Deep Work – Cal Newport – Page 31 (footnote) (Drop-Dead-Simple)

The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasises the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products – especially in schools – somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy. Giving students an iPad or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.

I must admit, when I first read this footnote I found myself agreeing and nodding my head in acceptance. The reason for this is because I know only too well about the misconception some parents and educators have in relation to the impact technology has on kids. There is indeed a belief that the use of an iPad and other mobile tablets will serve our kids well in a technologically advanced society we all refer to as the future.

This simple but powerful footnote immediately had my brain working overtime. I quickly jumped onto my computer and started to search around the internet. I was looking for sources that would confirm this statement. However, it would appear as Cal Newport terms, this ‘now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products – especially in schools – somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy’ is not the consensus.

Do I treat my children in this manner?

I for one do not feel as though my children’s use of such technology will have a positive impact on their ability to perform in a complex, high-tech economy. I simply allow the use of those devices as mere tools to promote learning, growth, and provide an ability to communicate with friends over multiple devices and platforms. From my experience in systems development, I would say there has been a shift from having the ability to understand the inner-workings of such complex systems, to developing a Drop-Dead-Simple user interface that allows anybody to interact with it to some degree.

Photo of a red apply to replace the official Apple logo

Apple Products

As an example, we can consider the simplistic user interface designed for an iPad or iPhone developed by Apple. Their operating system (OS) is a very complex set of algorithms being triggered at certain stages of the user input. This allows the user to perform complex tasks such as managing their privacy and security through the selection of simplistic options designed to ease the burden of knowledge required. However, does this mean that all users, no matter what their age, should become a computing engineer before they are allowed to use one? If the answer was a simply yes, then surely we should all be qualified mechanics before we even open a car door, let alone insert the ignition key and turnover the engine.

Surely, this is how society works?

For many years we have lived in this type of society. We are not required to become a mechanic just like we are not required to become computer scientists to use their technologies respectively. I argue this can be liberating for most users who would normally not use this type of technology. Especially if it required them to understand computer science at an advanced level. We have always had industry professionals who specialise in their subject areas.

However, if we go back a few years, even the most simplistic of technologies were complex to the average user. They demanded some basic knowledge such as the Visual Basic computer language (Examples would be the old but equally fantastic Spectrum, Amstrad, and Commodore computers). I should then argue that the release of such technology held us in captivity; not allowing people the freedom to use upcoming technology without first mastering its inner-workings. Therefore, is the statement Cal Newport makes in his footnote an actual reflection on the use and purpose of technology within family units and/or educational establishments?

I personally use an iPad to encourage and stimulate learning.

I personally use technology in my areas of teaching. The use of an iPad can really help a student to be stimulated into the core depths of a subject matter. Do I use this technology because I feel my students will develop advance skills to help them succeed in a fast-paced, advanced technological environment? No, of course not. I use the technology to enhance my students’ ability to grasp the concepts I am required to teach them.

Supporting Research

Multiple words with a focus on the single word Research highlight by a magnifying glass.I am not the only one who believes the use of such technology has a positive educational impact. A research study conducted in Auburn, Maine demonstrated that the use of an iPad by kindergarten children had a positive effect on literary test results compared to those children who did not use one (Schramm, 2012). According to Comstock (2013), medical students at the University of California Irvine Medical School scored 23 percent higher on exams compared to those medical students who never used one. Furthermore, Pearson Foundation conducted a survey in 2012 involving 1206 college students and 204 college-bound high school seniors (USA). It was found that students agree that tablets will transform the way in which they will learn in the future. With over 66 percent stating tablets helped them study more efficiently, and 64 percent stated that tablets allowed them to study more efficiently in class (Pearson Foundation, 2012).

More Research Examined

After a little more research I also found a study from KIPP Academy in Houston, TX that demonstrates a 49 percent higher pass rate through the use of tablets in the classroom (Schramm, 2012). According to Bonnington (2012), a study done by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in California, demonstrated students using an iPad saw their math test scores increase 20 percent in one year compared to students using traditional textbooks. A study at Oklahoma State University concluded that 75 percent of students agreed that the iPad enhanced their learning experience (Oklahoma State University, 2011).

Even More Research

I also came across a school in Coon Rapids, MN, called Northdale Middle School who claim that an iPad in the classroom has led to an increase in engagement among their disabled students. Students have managed to excel their learning and comprehension through the use of this type of technology (Baca, 2012). There was also a game called Motion Math and it was found that if students played the game for as little as 20 minutes per day, over a five day period, their test scores increased by 15 percent on average (Jacob, 2011). It would appear the consensus does not match the footnote comments made by Cal Newport in his book titled, Deep Work.

A Focus on my own Children
Nuclear family image in block grey showing a father, mother, and two children.

A family focus

This type of topic tends to make me focus on my own two children. At the time of writing this essay, they are 9 and 15 years of age (both girls). They both possess some high quality skills but neither of them possess those skills in the ability to use complex technology. My eldest enjoys art, excels at textiles, and enjoys socialising with friends and family on a regular basis. My youngest has a keen ability to write high quality stories and poems for her age (I recently posted a story of hers here), has great skill and control in her gymnastics having won numerous medals, and enjoys getting creative. When I compare my girls to myself I see a big difference. I spent years perfecting my skills in the use of technology. I was born before the internet boom and therefore, it integrated me to no end. However, my girls have been raised in an era that focuses heavily on the use of technology without the need to understand the inner-workings. Does this mean they are disadvantaged and will suffer when they get older and step onto their career ladder? No!

Normality

It was my choice to study in depth the intricacies of PHP and MySQL. It was my interest and my fascination with this new technology that spurred me onto to have a skill in backend development. I would not expect my two girls to know how to code in those two languages to be able to search an online database such as popular search engines. However, there have always been those who do not wish to study a certain topic in any depth. This has been the norm for a very long time. Has this meant that society has not flourished and advanced? Not at all. We have still excelled at many things and driven the progression of technical development to a new level. All this without the need for everyone to specialise in the inner-workings of every piece of technology they come into contact with.

However, does this indicate that specifically skilled workers will be more valuable in the future than those who choose not to pursue that career path? Yes, of course it does. But is this really different to how it’s always been?

Conclusion
Essay Conclusion

Essay Conclusion

Cal Newport is an excellent author who has some fantastic insights into how society is being shaped. However, his footnote at the bottom of page 31 in his book called, Deep Work, does not seem to reflect the current consensus. Tablet technology is helping shape the way our children learn. It can help stimulate them to show an interest in such topics they may have previously found boring. Research and surveys within the last 6 years point to a consensus that the use of such devices can have a positive impact on a young person’s education. Therefore, I find Cal Newport’s bold statement to be unjustified.

References:

Baca, M. E. (2012) iPads improve special education at Coon Rapids school [Online] Available at: www.startribune.com/ipads-improve-special-education-at-coon-rapids-school/179835811/ [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Bonnington, C. (2012) iPad a solid education tool, study reports [Online] Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/23/tech/innovation/ipad-solid-education-tool [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Comstock, J. (2013) iPad-equipped medical school class scores 23 percent higher on exams [Online] Available at: http://www.mobihealthnews.com/20311/ipad-equipped-medical-school-class-scores-23-percent-higher-on-exams/ [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Jacob. (2011) Landmark study: Motion Math improves fractions knowledge, attitudes [Online] Available at: http://motionmathgames.com/landmark-study-motion-math-improves-fractions-knowledge-attitudes/ [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Oklahoma State University. (2011) iPad study released by Oklahoma State University [Online] Available at: https://news.okstate.edu/articles/ipad-study-released-oklahoma-state-university [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Pearson Foundation. (2012) Survey on students and tablets 2012 [Online] Available at: https://www.colby.edu/administration_cs/its/instruction/cstrain/upload/PF_Tablet_Survey_Summary_2012.pdf [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Schramm, M. (2012) Study: iPads improve Kindergarten literacy scores [Online] Available at: https://www.engadget.com/2012/02/20/study-ipads-improve-kindergarten-literacy-scores/ [Accessed: 26 May 2017].

Further Reading:

Newport, C. (2016) Deep Work. London: Hachette.

What is your opinion?