Selections from Digital Nation Transcript

To assist readers unfamiliar with Digital Nation, this page transcribes selections from the documentary that are relevant to understanding the analysis presented in the webtext. Although readers should watch the full documentary or read the entire transcript to better contextualize these selections within the more balanced presentation depicted by the whole film, the following transcriptions can serve as a temporary way to better understand selections discussed. The presentation of these selections is in keeping with fair use guidelines of using copyrighted work for scholarship and reproducing a "relatively small amount" of non-original copyrighted text.

Selection 1: MIT Professors discuss learning in the 21st century

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: Every professor who looks out onto a sea of students these days knows there's email, FaceBook, Googling me, Googling them, Googling their next-door neighbor, that's happening in the classroom.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Like most universities, MIT allows laptops in its classes at the professor's discretion.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: I mean, it even changes how teachers teach because now the- the pressure is on teaching kind of scintillating PowerPoint things that will distract them from the Web.

DAVID JONES, Associate Professor, MIT: There are two sorts of things you can test students about. You can test how well they're paying attention in lecture and you can test how well they're absorbing information from readings that you assign. And I don't think they're doing either of those things well.

I just gave my class a midterm, and I was really asking obvious questions that, had they been attending carefully in lecture and had they been doing the readings carefully, everyone should have gotten 100 percent on this exam. And the mean score was probably about a 75 percent. It's not that the students are dumb, it's not that they're not trying, I think they're trying in a way that's not as effective as it could be because they're distracted by everything else.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: I teach at MIT. I teach the most brilliant students in the world. But they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There really are important things you cannot think about unless it's still and you're only thinking about one thing at a time. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with 15 other things.

Selection 2: Monitoring students' laptop use

RACHEL DRETZIN: The school is often battling the lures of on-line Distractions. Its firewall blocks access to sites like YouTube and MySpace, but the kids figure out how to get to them anyway.

OSAFO: Sometimes the teachers bore us, and instead of listening to them, we go on the Web sites.

TANIJA: If a teacher comes or something, they'll switch it so the teacher won't see, you know? It's mostly MySpace, AIM, and games. But at the same time, doing our schoolwork.

DANIEL ACKERMAN, Asst. Principal, I.S. 339: So I click, and there's an "observe" button, and it brings up their screen.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The school's assistant principal spends part of each day remotely monitoring what the kids are doing on their laptops.

DANIEL ACKERMAN: Oh, we have a Photo Booth.

RACHEL DRETZIN: He can see them, but they can't see him.

DANIEL ACKERMAN: These kids are goofing off, taking pictures of themselves in class.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] So wait. Do all the kids have the cameras on?

DANIEL ACKERMAN: 6th and 7th grade have cameras. A lot of kids are just on it to just check their hair, do their makeup. They just use it like it's a mirror. And I always like to mess with them and take a picture. Nine times out of ten, they duck out of the way. And then they shut down and they get right back to work.

Selection 3: Mark Bauerlein, Clifford Nass, and students discuss the impact of interruptions on literacy

Prof. MARK BAUERLEIN, Emory University: You will find a lot of English professors saying, "I can't assign a novel more than 200 pages. I used to. I can't anymore."

RACHEL DRETZIN: Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University, wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation. It's filled with data suggesting that kids aren't as academically capable as they used to be, before all these digital distractions.

MARK BAUERLEIN: What I would like more than anything else is for young people to prove every single harsh judgment in that book flat wrong, right? We want them to grow up and to blow us away with their literacies, their reading and writing skills, their knowledge about- about history and art, and their civic activity. But we just don't see it.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Bauerlein quotes a 2007 NEA study that shows that while younger students' reading skills are improving, as kids get older and ostensibly more wired, their reading deteriorates. And he claims that writing skills are suffering, too.

MARK BAUERLEIN: When the Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed college professors about basic skills today as compared to 10 years ago, only 6 percent of them said that college students come into their classes very well prepared in writing. By a 2-to-1 margin they said basic skills are worse today than they were a decade ago.

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS, Stanford University: You already hear professors and others talking about changes in the way kids write, so that instead of writing an essay, they write in paragraphs. They write a paragraph and they say, "Oh, now I'll look at FaceBook for a while." Or they write a paragraph and say, "Oh, a chance to play poker," or to do all of these at once. So what we're seeing is less of a notion of a big idea carried through and much more little bursts and snippets.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The MIT students we met confirmed that constant interruptions have an effect on their writing.

[on camera] Like, we've talked to professors, not necessarily here, but who say that students of your generation write in paragraphs. In other words, there isn't this kind of connection between paragraphs. It's like the paragraphs are kind of separate and-

KAMO: Oh, I do that all the time! [laughter] My papers, my first draft, it's always, like "All right, paragraph one, awesome. Two, awesome. Three, awesome. I don't see the connection." And in my head, well, I was probably thinking about something else during then or I wasn't look at the big picture. It was short term, short term, short term. Let me write out an awesome paragraph and then go to the next one, my next idea.