A student asked me recently: “Why do I need to know when Frankenstein was published? I have a smart phone—I can always find the answer if I need it.”
He was right. And while I can expound easily and at length about how important it is to understand the time period in which an author was writing in order to fully analyze the novel, for most students in American high schools today, my lecture would fall under the “not relevant—tune out” category, and instead of listening to me, they’d spend the next twenty minutes ignoring my painstakingly planned lesson in favor of tweeting and texting their friends from under their desks.
In fact, a far more valuable lesson for these students is be to take the time allotted for my lecture and instead allow them to use their technology to discover the answers for themselves. Because in the long run, they do need to know when novels were published in order to understand many of the central themes and ideas. BUT for a generation of students that has grown up with instantaneous information literally at their fingertips, there is a gap in logic when it comes to what teachers tell them they need to know and what they actually need to know.
For them, it is a reality that the information they need will always be within easy reach. Its important to keep kids safe and use proper internet safety practices in the classroom, but he had a point.Being able to regurgitate facts is a non-essential skill for these students. Instead, students need the opportunity to develop the skills needed to use their technology efficiently and accurately to find reliable, correct information when necessary. Do they still need to understand the cultural background of Mary Shelley’s era in order to grasp and appreciate the central themes of her novel? Absolutely. But does it matter to me how they gain access to this information? Not a bit.
So I answer my student’s question with a challenge to the class: You tell me why. Take the next ten minutes, use your technology, and let’s see who can come up with the most accurate response, and how they do it.
And of course, what they don’t realize as they all scramble to pull out their smart phones, laptops and iPads, is that they’ll all leave class knowing when Frankenstein was published. Mission accomplished.
-Article Contributed by Kristen O'Rourke