Does your campus have a strong video culture? Here’s why it should.

That's the headline of a story this week in eCampus News, a newsletter about tech trends in higher ed that I receive every few days.

The story cites a study that demonstrates how the widespread use of video improves higher education. Video gives students access to course lectures any time and anywhere. It lets schools preserve and share events and ceremonies. Teachers can “use video to take courses on the next level.” Student retention goes up, and so do graduation rates.

Reading those glowing forecasts, one would almost lose sight of the sound assumption that one of the very last things that 19-year-olds need for their educational growth is more video. That assumption isn’t shared by Luddites alone. It’s what employers say when asked about the “workforce readiness” of young people. None of them talk about inadequate video skills or poor visual awareness, but they always mention weak speaking and writing skills.

Of course, there is a non-academic reason for schools to plant more video into students’ lives. Youths prefer watching videos in their dorm rooms to taking notes in class; they like a pedagogy that resembles their media-saturated extracurricular hours. Maybe the flexibility of skipping class and catching the lecture on screen that night will keep more of them from dropping out.

But they won’t learn as much. Actual attendance in class and taking notes by hand, not with any technology, is better for learning. When I was in graduate school, I read many books and wrote lines in the margin whenever a passage seemed important. Then I went back through the whole thing and transcribed every marked sentence into a spiral notebook. It was plodding and pedestrian, but it made the material stick. Watching a video—not so good.

This is the kind of skepticism I pushed hard in a book from ten years ago, The Dumbest Generation. Back then, when you voiced this kind of doubt about the digital miracle, people judged you a throwback, hidebound, and out-of-touch.

I imagine some First Things readers have had the experience themselves. I had an email exchange recently with a parent who, after objecting to her child’s school going all-laptop-all-the-time, received from officials and other parents impatience and scorn. I assured her that we now have many empirical reasons for caution and resistance, passing along to her some research studies on the high cost and disappointing outcomes of school laptop programs.

There are now several books out that support her worries. One just came in the mail:

Readers may be interested in more of them. Here are some others that vary in approach and reach across the political spectrum:

Please add more worthwhile books and essays in the comments.

Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.

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