[Science Solitaire] Don’t forget these things when learning through a screen

Maria Isabel Garcia
'[We have to] help young people realize that the screen is their slave – a tool – and not their master'

Last week, I wrote about some ideas on how you can co-create an even better normal than the old one we used to have. I ventured into some ideas about restaurants and tourism. This time, we go into learning. Not education per se but learning. I am not about to do a critique of DepEd’s plans for after the quarantine or any other school’s but try to see how we can frame our heads better as we go more into “screen learning.”

Ironically, I have been getting screensick for about 2 weeks now. It took a while since the ECQ started before I realized that every single move that kept my work, my relationships with family and friends, my pantry, and even my sanity depended on what I can make my screen do – whether it is my phone, laptop, tablet, or the TV. Under the lockdown, productivity became synonymous with screen time. Before quarantine times, I never went for FB, Twitter, or Instagram and all those other social media apps before but with my almost total dependence on the screen for almost 2 months, I had to dip into them through “necessary” links that people I valued sent to me that they have become dives. But I have started to feel the costs.

It has begun to sink in that learners, especially kids, around the world will now have to undergo “distance learning” which translates to mostly online learning and for students here, a majority of whom do not have internet access, they are to rely on TV and radio. I felt an inner panic that one of the deepest and life-shaping adventures a human could ever have in learning – the puzzlement over seemingly unrelated things, confusions over what role things play in the world, the joys of discovery, the kick-yourself-for-not-having-thought-of-it moments, the eurekas, the kinship you feel with others who come upon the same insight, the gratitude to those who passed on knowledge from the past, the complicated process of how we know what we know – would now all or mostly be brought by the light of the screen. 

I panicked because learning is a genuine adventure where you need to take risks in order to learn. Whether it is an old belief you hold dear, or your reputation – these are things you may lose to make your mind adept at changing when it has to. Screens do not really make you risk and if they do, in a limited sense, screens are not created equal when it comes to these necessary risks. It is what is happening in them that really shapes the mind especially of very young children and thus, how we become as human beings. We have to make sure that as responsible parents and adults guiding children, that we and our children have productive and meaningful relationships in and with the world, the we help young people realize that the screen is their slave – a tool – and not their master. 

I subscribe to the Center for Humane Technology (CHT) founded by Tristan Harris. He, among others in CHT, used to work for social media technology which means that they know the motivations behind how apps work. This basically means that they are designed to grab your attention and not necessarily to make you learn better. His first-hand insights presented in a video I think are a MUST for any student and parent/teacher BEFORE you go on any webinar about how to teach or learn online. It will help you start to frame your mind as you enter the next normal when almost all learning materials will be delivered on a screen. 

Apart from that, I have a few points that we may have to keep in mind as we learn mostly online and co-create the next normal:

  • Do not forget that you are learning at home. 

One of the main reasons that schools became physical institutions is to wean kids away from their parents. This is so that it is not only parents who will shape children’s minds but the whole library of ideas in the world and across time. This is so that life will have a chance at improving generations in terms of understanding and therefore, behaving. Every generation is a product of their time. If children thought and behaved exactly as how their parents did based on what the latter taught the former based on their own beliefs, then we will be stuck with ideas even if they did not work or worse, caused these very problems the world now faces. If the millennials and Gen Zs of today only went by their parents’ knowledge and beliefs and ways of living, the same old ways of the normal that betrayed us will happen again. So parents, try to detach your own convictions, preferences, and ideologies when you guide your children as they learn from home. Your child is life’s shot at being better. Allow that space.

  • Do not forget books. 

Unlike a screen, a book, page by page, allows you to think through and feel every nook and cranny from when a thought begins to its end. Audio books are also great. To be able to carry that through is a feat that makes for deep learning which you cannot get from merely scanning materials online which is how human tendencies deal with online material. Do not forget to read literature. The overemphasis on STEM (and I say that as a science writer), at the expense of the arts, of many curricula misses the point of a genuine education. Many years ago, I was lying on my bed, staring out in space and then found myself looking at the books on my shelves. I have varied interests, so my books were dives into many things. I began a mind game where I would connect what I remember about a book I saw and then try to connect it with whatever book I randomly chose. The connections went from almost nothing to very strong. But what I felt after was deep gratitude that I can fly across these varied worlds and bridge them. So, connect screen content with books you have and see where they agree or disagree. That will enlarge the universe in your head beyond merely reflecting multiple screens you viewed.

  • Do not forget the person/s behind the screen. 

Persons emit scents when they feel anger, disgust, or fear. You may not be aware that you are able to smell them but that is part and parcel of how we navigate our relationships with others. These are non-existent with screen technology so far. “Reading” another person’s intention or meaning for hundreds of thousands of years has been mainly “in person.” In the blink of time, we are now all forced to extract that meaning from looking at people on the screen. Allow room for the things that you do not see in the person on screen. Do not forget also how many other people you do not see on screen were responsible for putting that screen content.

  • Do not forget the real world.

The screen content that you see often have better physical equivalents. Learn them in the real space that you can still have safely as we co-create the next normal. Make ant colonies and study them. Wake up at dawn to listen to the difference of bird songs before and now that we are mostly quarantined. Rediscover how things grow. Start with weeds. Observe keenly. Note how your little brother responds to the different ways you tease him every day. Chart your observations and see how little changes happen in real life.

We can have a better normal when it comes to learning by putting the screen where it belongs – as one of the worlds we can have for our adventure. But always remember that it is just one of them. – Rappler.com

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at sciencesolitaire@gmail.com.