What is ETD?

ETD promotes discussion on low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries. Read More

Join ETD

Become a part of the conversation. Contribute your ideas, strategies and expertise to our discussions. Join Now

New Media Is the Future, Let’s Make the Most of It

Inés Dussel

The argument of the dumbing-down caused by new media or technology can be traced a long way back in Western culture. Be it writing, printing, film, TV, or personal computing, there has always been an attack on new technologies based on the risks they pose for memory, culture, humanism, values, or personal health.

Nick Carr’s piece chooses academic performance as the measure against which we should judge new media’s value and effects. Studies as the ones done by Vigdor and Ladd at Duke are cited to show that there is a correlation between extended home access to personal computing and declining academic performance. It seems self-evident that if children and young people are spending more time on the Internet, chatting or watching/sharing videos with friends, they are doing it at the expense of studying school subjects.

I have some problems with this type of reasoning. One of them is that, as professor Herb Kliebard taught me, one should be wary of arguments starting with “Research shows…”: you will probably hit upon the opposite finding in another research study. While I am not a relativist, I think that one should be honest to say that the research library is still divided on many more issues than it is not. I am not suggesting Carr is not honest, but just want to point out what I consider a weak part of his argument, which relies heavily on these findings.

But my central point is: why should academic performance, understood exclusively as performance on test scores, be considered as the only measure to value new media’s effects on children and young people’s learning?

Substantial work has been done on understanding what is it that they are doing with new media, and which kinds of intellectual, emotional, and physical challenges are being posed to them by the new media ecology (Mimi Ito et al, 2010). While there are many poor uses of media, there are also creative and complex productions that are expanding children and young people’s worlds of experience and skills (Livingstone, 2010; Lankshear & Knobel, 2010). Should they be dismissed because they are not included in achievement tests? One can say that, as long as there are texts and we need to abstract relations, we will always need to learn to read and write, and numeracy skills. But are we sure they have not changed in digital times? How is it “reading with mouse-in-hand” different than “reading with pencil-in-hand” (Jenkins, 2010)? I think these questions are worth considering.

The report we produced with Prof. Luis Alberto Quevedo for the Organization of Iberoamerican States and Fundación Santillana, whose title is “Education and New Technologies: Pedagogical Challenges in the Digital World,” makes the opposite case than Nick Carr’s provoking essay. We argue that, although they posit many challenges, new media has to be included in formal education. One of the most important reasons is that using new media is part of being a citizen of the world, of engaging in larger communities, of accessing large collections of knowledge, and of getting to produce a part of them as well. Both Argentina and Uruguay have adopted 1-to-1 policies that are equipping every student with a netbook, in a strategy that is first and foremost thought of as digital inclusion. In countries where computers are still out of reach for the poorer families and broadband connections might be impossible to afford, the digital gap is basically defined by income differentials (IIPE-UNESCO, 2009). States are trying to level up the field, and these policies are receiving strong support from the population.

But also, there are pedagogical reasons for their introduction in schools, and these are the same almost everywhere. Today, new media are key players in the production and circulation of knowledge. Not only do we have access to gigantic libraries that are making available texts previously reserved for specialized readers, but we can also debate our readings with online communities that include a wide range of people, from experts to newcomers, who can all provide their point of view. And we can share our own visual, written and/or oral productions, in ways that were unthinkable one decade ago. If this is valid for developed countries, imagine so for small villages in isolated communities in the Andes or in the wide Pampas.

Of course, I know these practices of thoroughly seeking, debating, or reading creatively are not happening in a large scale. One point on which our report agrees with Nick Carr’s piece is that most of the educational excitement about new media has been with the potential of ICTs, disregarding the actual, poorer uses of computing not only in daily life but also in the school setting (which probably ranks as the poorest environment for new media). In our research, it became evident that, while some young people (generally from upper and middle class families, with access at home and with social or cultural capital that enables them to explore and experiment with new languages) are doing creative and challenging uses, others are not. Yet, we found several examples of young people from low-income families whose relatively-poor use of ICTs is still pivotal for themselves and their parents in doing budgets or websites for informal jobs, or connecting to family in distant places. These uses might not be as sophisticated as others, but are none the less very important in helping them to improve their work opportunities and to enrich their support networks in multiple respects.

Shouldn’t schools take into account these uses and teach young people to interact with new media in ways that expand their actual experiences? We argue that they should, in order to help children and young people benefit from the potential of ICTs and avoid practices that just mimic the less interesting and less complex products of pop culture, or that increase the constraints of their environments. Also, if we are concerned with shallow concepts of knowledge and culture, schools should organize arenas that discuss and prepare children to live in a world where newcomers and experts might all have a say about what counts as knowledge, yet there might still be common and agreed criteria to judge the truth and validity of statements. The grounds on which we are building a public culture is something that deserves deep and detailed consideration, that goes beyond individual tastes and dislikes –the logic that is privileged by mass media. Honestly, do we envisage this discussion happening on prime-time TV? Schools are still the best shot we have to produce a massive and thorough conversation on knowledge and culture.

In the report, we discuss the many challenges posed by bringing new media into schools and particularly in the classroom. To focus on just a few, for teachers, this move might imply becoming fluent in platforms and languages they hardly know, and revisit their fields of expertise. While they might not become geeks or expert programmers, we argue that geography teachers should be expected to know that our sense of space and territory has changed with GPS systems and Google Earth, as much as history teachers should acknowledge that the relationship with the past has been transformed by media culture’s blurring of “now” and “then”. Also, simulations are great ways to learn about design, physics, or the life of distant beings, but schools should also teach to doubt them, to question their assumptions, and to understand their limits (Turkle, 2010). Teachers have to learn how to deal with many levels of tech expertise in a classroom, and to reorganize teaching sequences allowing for more participation. All these changes imply rethinking teacher education, and also designing technical and pedagogical support systems for daily classrooms.

So, going back to Kevin Donovan’s initial questions, I don’t believe mobile hands are worse than books in the hands of impoverished students, not only in Latin America but in any region. In fact, they might give them access to books, videos and music that expand their culture and knowledge in significant ways. That this “might” turns into actual experiences, depends in part on what schools do. Let’s try and make sure they do something to make it happen.

Inés Dussel is the Educational Director of Sangari Argentina, and is a researcher at the Latin American School for the Social Sciences (FLACSO/Argentina).


DUSSEL, I. & L.A. QUEVEDO (2010). Educación y Nuevas Tecnologías: Los desafíos pedagógicos en el mundo digital. Buenos Aires, Fundación Santillana.

IIPE-UNESCO (2009). Estudio sobre las iniciativas de integración de TIC en los sistemas educativos de América Latina y el Caribe.  Buenos Aires.

ITO, M. et alii (2010). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press.

JENKINS, H. (2010). “Afterword”, In: LANKSHEAR, C., & M. KNOBEL (eds). DIY Media. Creating, Sharing and Learning with New Technologies. New York, Peter Lang, pp. 231-253.

LIVINGSTONE, S. (2009). Children and the Internet. Cambridge, UK, Polity Press.

TURKLE, S. (2009). Simulation and its Discontents. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press.


Don’t miss a moment of the action!

Subscribe now and get the latest articles from Educational Technology Debate sent directly to your inbox.

2 Responses to “New Media Is the Future, Let’s Make the Most of It”

  1. I subscribe to this argument <But my central point is: why should academic performance, understood exclusively as performance on test scores, be considered as the only measure to value new media’s effects on children and young people’s learning?>. We must be open to many ways. History of philosophy teaches us that today thinking activity is central to the study of relaions among God, Man and the World. The search is no more centred on the substance of the matter (essentialism) but on whether we really know it the way it is (objectivity vs subjectivity ).
    Why do we set standards (subjective) to measure realities beyond our own criteria (objectivity)
    World civilization is neither soley in the capitalist west nor has it been in the communist east. Excellence is always mid-way the real

  2. Clayton R. Wright

    Inés Dussel, I agree with the main thrusts of your August 24th comments. Perhaps we need to re-assess what and how we measure academic performance. Yes, we need to continue to assess reading, writing, and numeracy skills, but perhaps we should place greater emphasis on critical thinking as well as:the ability to find, sort, analyze, and evaluate information;communication skills in the digital age, such as the use of blogs and digital audio and video clips;skills required to manage and cope with change;collaborative skills (It’s odd that we frequently test for independent thinking skills then require people to solve problems as a team.); andengagement in local and world communities.I particularly like the fact that ICTs can provide all, but especially those in disadvantage areas, access to different ideas and different ways of seeing the world as well as the capability to express and share their perspectives in a variety of forms. Yes, they may be introduced to philosophical, ethical, cultural, and environmental views that are unfamiliar to them, but isn’t that one of the key roles of a true education – a critical examination of different points of view?Obviously, youth are spending more time on the internet chatting or watching and sharing videos with friends and this may be done at the expense of studying and interacting with friends face-to-face. But, is this necessarily bad as long as it is kept in balance with other activities? In my mind, there is no question that the digital age allows individuals to reach out beyond their communities, to find information and resources they would be unlikely to encounter without the use of ICTs, to develop relationships with diverse individuals, and to contribute to the world’s knowledge base by creating artifacts. These activities do not replace studying a specific subject, but they can enhance learning and contribute to the development of a more “rounded” individual.I believe it is essential that the study of digital subjects not merely be an add-on to the existing curriculum. Rather, it should be fully integrated into the classroom. Can you image today’s businesses operating without the use of computers or confining their use to one room in their head offices? Then, why should today’s classrooms be devoid of ICTs or why should ICTs be confined to a computer lab? And, why should those in less developed economies be discouraged from using these essential tools of the modern era? Obviously, you and your colleagues in Argentina have considered how ICTs can be used to achieve pedagogical goals. I hope others will be able to follow in your footsteps and not be deterred by the challenges involved in implementing new technology effectively. As you said in your comments, “Let’s make the most of it!”.


Subscribe to ETD

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner