Engage in an open debate about the topic with your opposing partner, using the communication technology of your choice. You can use email, chat, skype, face to face, video conferencing, etc – you chose what’s best for you and your working partner.

The goal here is to freely exchange information and ideas, arguing as forcefully and persuasively for your assigned position. Consider critically the opposing side’s evidence and reasoning, probe and push their thinking, and be sure to ask them for data to support their assertions. Present counter arguments and defend your claims by rebutting the attacks on your position. Remember that the “strongest” arguments on both sides of the issue will only emerge when considered under the most critical of analysis. For this reason, avoid any temptation you might feel at this point to drop your assigned position. Have fun with the debate while recognizing that critical thinking on both sides will make your final essay stronger.

As you engage in an open debate, remember also the rules for constructive controversy. Specifically, you want to be critical of ideas, not people. Also, your goal is not to “win” but to come to the best decision possible about what represents the strongest arguments surrounding this controversy. Thus, you should try to understand both sides of the issues and change your mind when the evidence clearly indicates that you should do so.

Time to get work.


  • Tracy
    Tracy said:

    Tracy’s is in blue.
    Jessica’s rebuttal in red.

    1. Technology allows us to participate in social networks on our own time and in our own terms. We can join when we might not otherwise be able to because of asynchronous communication. I would agree that this is one of the benefits of social networks, but in this article Putnam is concerned with social capital which is a much different thing. Using this as a comparison is sidestepping what Putnam was examining in his research. 2. Technology helps to equalize those who participate in social networking. Individuals can join together in a space that allows them to connect based on personality, rather than on the basis of presupposed ideas or stereotypes. This sounds logical on the face, but upon further examination I would venture to say that in order to participate in social networking in the first place it puts individuals into a certain socio-economic group from the start. Social networking requires quite a bit of disposable income and extra time that is not available to all social demographics. There are a large number of fees associated with not only the technology hardware but also the monthly fees as well for service. In addition, there is still a large part of rural America that even with money cannot get reliable service to facilitate social networking. For those people who have jobs that are not flexible such as working in the shop or more hands-on type jobs, there is also no time allowed to participate in such an activity. For those in high pressure jobs on the other end of the spectrum there is no time either, leaving social networking much to those with fewer responsibilities and more disposable income than the majority of Americans. Individuals who are more introverted in a face to face setting might feel more confident in an online setting due to the opportunity to carefully construct one’s own thoughts. Having the ability to carefully construct one’s thoughts is potentially another downside to using technology for relationships. Part of a relationship involves developing equal trust and vulnerability, and if one is consistently hiding behind something that allows them to create walls and “carefully constructed thoughts”, then the deeper levels of relationship will not occur. Additionally, this very ability to hide what one is really thinking is the subject not only of much research, but of much danger to children and others. In Michigan currently there is a large push by the state police department for parents to use controls on their children’s Internet use as they can be victimized. Additionally, the number one cause cited in Michigan divorce cases is now Facebook use. The news is constantly filled with stories of identity theft as well, another side effect of putting information out on the web. Another frequently well-kept secret is how social networking can be harmful when put into the hands of someone domestically violent. As someone who has been stalked the concept of using social networking and putting out personal information represents a tangible danger. I would like to think that this was something rare, but unfortunately it is not. In my particular department of the five people I directly work with 4 have been touched by something very similar with social networking being used as a weapon.
    3. Likewise, people who share commonalities based on various identity groups can create a communal space online regardless of geographic location. People are able to find just about any group online based on their interests and can join in conversations across space and time. I have loved the ability to keep in touch with people from other places I’ve lived and worked, and also meeting new people through various online forums. However, this is still not the same element that Putnam was referring to in terms of social capital. With social capital, it is more than being able to talk over time and space–it is the ability to work towards a common good. If all friends and contacts are far away, then there is no one in the immediate area to help with those life events that do happen to all of us.
    5. Putnum ultimately blames television for the demise of civic engagement. The newest technologies are far more interactive than television. Social networks require active participation and engagement with the content. If people don’t participate,they don’t get much out of the experience. Putnam’s research also is dated 1995. Society has changed; more time is spent now on the computer (or watching television while participating in virtual communities online!). We are able to customize our experience and immediately interact with content as it’s created.).The more things change, the more things stay the same, and those who believe that instant engagement and instant fixes are possible would benefit by studying history and being reflective with their thinking. This past election is a fabulous example of what happens when people get involved but do not critically think about what is happening. Many promises were made (as is true in any political election) and now that these unrealistic promises are not able to be followed through on, many people are unhappy.
    7. Definitions of community have changed, as have definitions of social activism. Individuals are more able to define their individual community based on common interests, experiences, identities, and realities.
    8. Putnam also points out that “highly educated people are more likely to be joiners and trusters.” Americans today are pursuing higher education at rates much higher than their parents or grandparents. Not only does that increase their likelihood to join community organizations and interest groups, the educational environment has increasingly integrated technology as we’ve shifted from an age of industry to one of information, enhancing Americans’ exposure to, and competency with, these unique tools.
    9. Putnam highlights the trend for our work force to log longer hours than in the past. However, our economy is now driven by service, not production. Services include “products” such as attention, advice, and discussion. The development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships (networking) is key to service, and technology has enabled the provision of service in many unique, new ways (teleconferencing, cellular phones, instant messaging, content management systems, etc.). These skills and technologies are a must for many of us logging long hours at work and we’ve learned to apply and adapt these skills and technologies in ways that will also enhance our social lives. Perhaps if at work people simply focused on their work they might not need so many hours as research is showing over 20 minutes per work day is wasted simply checking personal email. In addition, if people had built up social capital they might be able to leverage this better to help them get things done and alleviating the need for so many of these work hours.
    10. Myra pulled in some outside research to reinforce our argument:
    Community with Contiguity
    Lev Grossman from Time magazine writes in the article that “The new social Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter.”
    The term “social media” include a wide set of online systems that enable users to interact with each other directly. This interaction allows users to produce content (as in the case of Wikipedia, Flickr and YouTube), discuss topics (blogs and other online forums) or collaborate with groups (as in social network sites like Facebook and Twitter). Sometimes denoted as “Web 2.0” or “New Media,” social media includes tools like social network sites (SNSs), wikis, blogs and video and photo-sharing sites.
    The affordances of social media to promote civic engagement have been well documented scholars. In his book Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold, who coined the term “online community”, documents many examples of mobilization through social and mobile media. For example, the role of mobile phones and texting played an vital role in organizing protests around the 2001 elections in the Philippines (Rheingold, 2003). In addition, Elinor Ostrom, recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, who has indicated that communities can self-regulate when the appropriate tools and incentives are accessible. Clay Shirky, another expert in social media, has explained that the fluid nature of social media creates a significant framework by which collaboration and deliberation occur (Shirky, 2008). Lastly, Yochai Benkler, in his book “The Wealth of Networks” has argued how social media can allow for multiple scale activities, in ways that don’t replicate or replace the offline world, but rather improve and extend it.
    Researchers have also found that social networks augment users’ social capital, or their “resources accumulated through the relationships among people” (Coleman, 1988). Social capital has been associated with a variety of positive benefits among adults, including better public health and improved economic well-being (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007).
    Both globally, and in the context of MENA, there are examples of creative use of social media to engage citizens in support of their community goals. Here are some examples:
    · Twitter: http://twitter.com/ was a great support for the Iranian people during the election demonstrations.
    · SocialMENA (http://socialmena.com/). A site dedicated to promoting social media use in the region.
    · Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/nonprofits
    · Global Voices (http://globalvoicesonline.org/). A Harvard Berkman Center project that promotes blog use internationally, including in the MENA region.
    · OneLebanon (http://www.onelebanon.com/forum/index.php). A discussion site dedicated to local Lebanese political issues.

    Although I am sure this research is interesting for its own merit, of more note in regards to social capital and the use of social media instead might be looking at the realtiy that 96% of today’s children under the age of 10 have at least one risk factor for heart disease, suicide is higher now than ever before, depression is at an unprecedented rate in all age categories, and the last generation to have the likelihood of increasing assets during their lifetime was the “builder generation”, that same generation that came of age prior to TV use. Generations now have the highest personal debt ratio ever and our country has a national debt in the trillions. Building up capital would be beneficial to all, but building up networking does not have the same effect. This study was aimed at how people work together towards common interests, and these new developments do not appear to creating any additional common good and individually, might be doing a large bit of harm.


    Position statement + Putnam, R.D. (1995). Tuning in, tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America. Political Science and Politics, 28(4), 664-683.
    Dr. Robert Putnam begins with the premise that American social capital (connectedness, here operationalized as time/membership in organizations, spanning political, religious, professional, and purely fun affiliations enabling people to work together collaboratively towards shared objectives) and social trust are positively correlated, and that both have been decreasing since the 1960s. Putnam argues that this trend is alarming, though he acknowledges that American society still has high rates of both social capital and social trust compared to other countries. He does not directly address whether smaller amounts of membership and time devotion to various organizations is a negative for either the individual or society, or if there is an additional correlation to blanket-trust for other people outside of social capital groups.
    Putnam investigated several possible influences that have contributed to the decline of American social capital (being connected) but provided the most compelling and related evidence regarding the permeation of the television as the prime suspect in his speech “Tuning in, Tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America” (1995). The rapid diffusion of television into our society coincided with Americans being “significantly less engaged with their communities than was true a generation ago.” His examination did not start with the impact of technology but rather with many possible suspects in the mystery of declining social capitalism leading into the 1980s.
    Social Capital, as defined by Putnam, is citizen engagement in community affairs including the networks, norms, and is based on trust that enables participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives. The theory of social capital presupposes that “the more we connect with other people, the more we trust them, and vice versa.” An increase in trust of other people is correlated with an increase in civic engagement. Therefore, a decrease in social capital would equate to a decrease in being connected to other people and therefore civic engagement.

    It seems the theory of social capital presented may include some errors in logic and may be misspoken. Though you can say that factors such as connection and trust may be correlated, we cannot say definitively that one causes the other. There are too many confounding variables. When your group states “a decrease in social capital would equate to a decrease in being connected to other people and therefore civic engagement,” it’s a little confusing because you have previously defined social capital as connectedness and civic engagement. I think this needs clarification and I wonder if your group meant to refer to trust.

    The trends in civic engagement clearly reflect this as membership in conventional voluntary organizations has decreased over 25% in the last 2-3 decades, time spent on informal socializing has decreased, sharp declines of time spent on clubs and organizations are noted, and evidence from the General Social Survey (GSS) shows a drop in group membership and trust at all levels of education. The trends clearly indicate that current Americans are significantly less engaged and less connected with their communities than was true a decade prior.
    But this is one definition of engagement…the modes and purposes for engaging with others have adapted across time, so the definition must adapt to meet the current modes and purposes.

    There are several plausible factors that could help understand and explain these trends. Dr. Putnam outlines eight suspects – education; pressures of time, and money, mobility and suburbanization; changing role of women, marriage and family; rise of welfare state; race and civil rights revolution; and generational effects. He notes that each of these may have played a factor in declining social capital trends, and that many of the issues are complex and full examination is beyond the scope of his speech. However, his summary analysis of the data for each of these suspects qualifies them only as ‘accessories’ or ‘accomplices’ in this mystery due to inconclusive correlations, need for additional data, or inaccurate assumptions. Although the noted factors are important to examine and keep in mind, they did not explain the whole story satisfactorily.
    As age and education are the top two predictors of all forms of civic engagement according to Putnam, the increase in the aging population and number of years spent in school would imply that civic engagement and social capital would be increased as well. However, that is not what the data showed as these groups dropped in engagement consistently with other sectors of the population. Surprising to many, the generational introduction and proliferation of the television provided the strongest evidence for explaining the generational downtrend of social capital in America. This diffusion of technology into American society was rapid and coincided with the timeline of declines in civic engagement noted in the data. Beginning in the 1950s, viewing hours steadily increased, consumption spread across all education levels, multiple television sets became the norm, and watching television consumed more and more free time. Television is also a unique force since it does not hold true to the model that media and social participation are positively correlated, since watching “inhibits participation outside the house.” Other media use is typically positively correlated with social participation, even though all of these activities draw on the same limited time resources.
    Other media resources such as what? I feel like the broad spectrum of social media that currently exists is left out of this equation when you say that “other media use is typically positively correlated with social participation.” Although it’s becoming more mobile (with cellular products and the like that are developed specifically for its use), it’s fairly common to assume that individuals using this media are typically “in the house” or at work on a computer while using this media, though it’s not necessarily inhibiting their participation. I think this also needs further consideration and clarification.
    Television makes individuals’ free time more private and therefore less connected. This privatization is increasing as multiple sets are now in households, eliminating even the need to interact with family members.
    Putnam’s data loses some of it’s significance with current trends. For instance, there is a focus on the increasing amount of time individuals spend isolating and viewing TV, but research such as that cited in BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6168950.stm) show that individuals are viewing less traditional TV, though mobile viewing is on the rise. Would Putnam’s conclusions hold true with this new form of online TV? In fact, this article in The Dallas Morning News (http://techblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/05/researchers-find-tv-watching-s.html) reports that most TV watching is done in social settings, which is contrary to the image Putnam presents. I would like to hear more analysis of the applicability of his ideas to current practices.
    Putnam also noted that heavy television watching can lead to pessimism about human nature as well as increased aggressiveness and reducing achievement for children. Putnam begins with defining people collaborating together as ‘social capital’, an interesting economic connotation. He ends with using a ‘time budget’, yet another economic term, as the most incriminating piece of evidence towards solving the mystery of connectedness. Many studies have been done both prior and after his work in terms of the quality of technology interactions and the effects these have on people, yet Putnam wisely refuses to get distracted by these semantic red herrings and focuses on the data reflecting what is happening in reality. Just as mathematical principles help us to understand that if 3 + 1 =4 then the statement x= 3 would be true given an equation of x + 1 = 4, an analysis of the time spent by various people groups would shed light on what the culprit is in regards to taking from our connectedness.
    Social capital is a measure of how connected people are to their communities and their willingness to collaborate in order to achieve common goals. As any quality detective would, Putnam examined carefully the data and trends as provided in the speech which demonstrate a decline in social capital over the last three decades. Several suspects were examined and questioned, but it was the television (technology) that provided the most compelling evidence. The introduction of the television and rapid infusion into society help explain the concurrent trend of decreasing social capital when accounting for all other factors. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that technology not only does not connect us more to others, but in reality, makes us less connected and increases civic disenfranchisement.

  • karen bedell
    karen bedell said:

    Combined Rebuttals

    Karen (Con) says of the Pro argument:
    How does knowledge of brain plasticity, brain development and synaptic connections become applied to education? The question is not “Do students deserve programming informed by research?” but, does this research truly inform in the manner suggested? How is the motor cortex paired with the frontal lobe? What is the evidence for memory enhancement? Your discussion of teachers incorporating metacognitive reflection into the classroom sounds promising, but what does it have to do with brain research? What is the connection between advancements in the knowledge of brain functioning and the ideas of developmental theorists? What is the connection between the developmental theorists and classroom practices?

    Jessica (Pro) says of the Con argument:
    Is your comment of poor readers being portrayed as having a “brain glitch” that can be remedied in reference to a specific program of which I don’t have knowledge? If not, I would say the application is not in providing a remedy but in maximizing the variety of competencies that the child does possess to enhance skills in the deficient area. Who are the unnamed “many” to whom you refer that argue against the building block model for reading? A citation would assist the argument. I feel that I need more context to understand the comment concerning removing emotion from cognition. Our pro argument actively takes emotion into account. You’re addressing a specific subset of the “pros” when you refer to so-called linear solutions and cookie cutter approaches. Our suggestions included repeated exposure and application activities supporting an array of competencies that would not be linear but would instead appeal to the complex nature of cognition and skill acquisition and retention. Your argument addresses a very limited notion of how proponents of brain science research the classroom would practically apply this knowledge.

    Karen says in response to Jessica:
    In answer to your question, yes, a study funded by NICHD reported that a reading program was successful in reversing a “brain deficit” causing dyslexia. This position paper questions if such a brain glitch can be detected and if a reading program can fix a neurological issue. Gerald Coles writes that “he and others” have published research refuting the “lower level component” model of reading and the so-called empirical evidence demonstration the effect of early instruction on later reading. -

    PRO Position (Jessica Wicks & Tim Xeriland)
    Should Brain Science Affect Pedagogy and Practice?

    Given the advancement of medical technologies such as MRI and PET, what we know about the way the brain functions has increased exponentially in the last 30-40 years. We now know the structure of the brain is not set at birth. We understand much more about the time lines of brain development and interrelatedness of portions of the brain in domains such as language acquisition, motor skill development, cognition, and emotional response and regulation. We also know that areas of related, repeated exposures become strong and fixed, while other synapses are pruned. Should not this knowledge be applied to the formal educational setting? Do not students deserve programming informed by research that nurtures and enhances cognitive development and processing?

    In her position piece, Hardiman profiles the Dimensions of Learning Model of Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. Focus on these five dimensions addressing higher-order thinking skills has created engaging experiences for students and increased the school’s scores on state assessment exams for the past 16 years. The dimensions consist of attitude, knowledge acquisition, high-order information processing, application, and personal mental habits. Examples of how brain science informs the dimensions and related practice are outlined below.
    We understand that attitudes and perceptions can enhance learning, just as they can detract from it in times of duress. Roland teachers provide a challenging, yet supportive environment, encouraging prosocial behaviors and connecting emotions with learning for easier recall, which is also referred to as state dependent memory. We also recognize that context and repetition assist assimilation into our existing schemas, promoting easy recall. Teachers stress the presentation of new information in the context of previous content, provide opportunities to repeat learning tasks, and appeal to various learning styles and areas of the brain by incorporating tools and activities such as audio-visuals, manipulatives, movement, and so on.

    Related research tells us it is easier for the brain to think in familiar ways, so teachers design tasks based on prior knowledge, offer models for comparison, and encourage pattern identification. We understand that pairing the motor cortex with the frontal lobe during experiential learning enhances memory and facilitates the learning process. Roland teachers assign hands-on, problem-solving tasks and allow students to demonstrate course concepts in various ways, such as displays, dramatizations, and presentations. Finally, it’s clear that those who master skills such as metacognition, self-evaluation, understanding learning styles, and goal setting achieve greater learning success than those who do not. Teachers conscious of this dimension encourage metacognitive reflection through journals, group discussions, and other cooperative activities.

    Though research in the areas of neurology and cognitive sciences has only exploded in the last 10 years, it seems apparent that our advancements of knowledge in brain functioning are clearly tied to the ideas of developmental theorists such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Maslow, Erikson, and others that have informed pedagogy across time. It is essential to incorporate the latest research from the field of brain science in our classrooms to provide our students with enhanced opportunities for success, particularly for those that already struggle with deficiencies due to learning differences.

    CON Position (Lawrence Bruce and Karen Bedell)
    Controversy Opening Argument: Do Recent Discoveries about the Brain and its Development have Implications for Classroom Practice?

    Our position is that, despite well-publicized reports in the media that researchers have pinpointed the brain structures required for reading, the reports are gross exaggerations used to pass legislation and popularize politicians. Furthermore, the idea that poor readers have a “brain glitch” which can be remedied by reading programs, is based on so-called research lacking an empirical basis. This argument and the resulting “solution” apply unproven labels to a large number of children, promote instruction with no promise for a solution, and generate or add to the false and cruel expectations that parents hold for their children.

    The research of Sally Shaywitz and Reid Lyon claims that fMRI color scans yield information about “reading”. In reality, the “reading” tasks used in their research are more or less exercises in recognizing simple sounds and phonological awareness. They claim that a universal consensus agrees that mastering phonological awareness is the first building block of the reading sequence. Furthermore, they say reading disabilities reflect a “deficit” in this “lower level component”. The truth is, many argue against the building block model and call for a global comprehension of the bigger literacy picture, including such issues as children’s backgrounds, interests, problem-solving approaches and comprehension, and the impact of environmental and cognitive processes on motivation and self-efficacy. Granted, their research may tell us something about reading and decoding, but does it truly tell us anything about the larger process of reading and best instructional methods?

    Second, the Shaywitz/Lyon research separates readers with dyslexia from those with non-neurological causes. There is no information specifying how this distinction was made. Rather, fMRI data shows different brain activity between the two groups, leading the researchers to conclude that the differences must be attributed to a “brain glitch”. No other explanations are offered. Obviously, the methods are biased and subjective.

    The NICHD summarized the results of the Shaywitz/Lyon study this way: “Children who are poor readers appear to have a disruption in the part of their brain involved in reading phonetically”. The truth could also be that brain activity differs between good readers and poor readers. If students are labelled as impaired based on research that fails to account for the complexity of learning, we are doing no more than stating that any differences in brain activity should be automatically attributed to an impairment. Furthermore, brain plasticity indicates that as readers improve, their brain activity changes. Thus, changes in brain activity are not demonstrated to be caused by a specific reading program, as the NICHD would like us to think, but could be from skill improvement in a general sense. In reference to this research, Coles had this to say, “The subjects apparently lacked this ability and then learned this ability, and their brain processing changed accordingly” (p. 278).

    We also question the notion of removing emotion from cognition. Is thinking inseparable from feelings, desires, enthusiasms and motivation? Neurologist Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux point to evidence showing an interactive response between emotional response and cognitive perception. Removing emotion from cognition overlooks the reality that “classrooms are filled with whole children for whom learning is always grounded in the fugue of cognition and affect” (p. 279).

    Finally, a chief premise in this research is that the brain has specified modules for learning written language and processing sound/symbol skills. The actual existence of such modules is an unsubstantiated theory. We can pinpoint language areas of the brain but they are intertwined in extensive networks that simultaneously construct and reconstruct. Furthermore, there is not a “fixed pattern of connectivity” which sets the stage for learning to read. Rather, the “connectivity pattern is set by experience”.

    At a neural level, the experience of learning to read is not the linear step-by-step fashion portrayed by the PRO side, but a more complex process that occurs seamlessly and, at present, indescribably at the neurobiological level. What is clear, however, is how learning to read does not occur. Basing critical legislation and cookie-cutter pedagogical solutions on processes and research that fail to account for the ecology of learning and the multitude of social, emotional, and motivational factors fails students and education.

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