Wired to learn

Wired to learn

November 15, 2007
From YouTube, Podcasts, and MySpace, to email, text messaging, and blogs—every day we’re bombarded with different media. But how does all of this affect the way we learn and interact in today’s wired world? Annabel Cohen has dedicated her career to answering this question at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Culture, Multimedia, Technology, and Cognition.

Twenty years ago, Cohen, a University of Prince Edward Island Professor of Psychology and the Institute’s Project Leader, was exploring her interest in how people perceive music. She has since moved beyond music to include all forms of electronic media—researching its profound influence on how we live day to day.

Part of her work correlates age with how well someone interacts with electronic media. Cohen suggests that multimedia, like language, could affect our brain’s development, particularly in our early years. “Our brain’s plasticity changes with age. Think of young people like digital ‘natives,’ and older people like digital ‘immigrants’ who have to work harder to adapt to multimedia,” says Cohen.

The Institute is a collaboration between three maritime universities: The University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), The University of New Brunswick (UNB) and the Université de Moncton (L’UdeM). An important part of the Institute’s infrastructure is three multimedia classrooms—one at each university—connected to each other by a high-speed network. This set up allows a diverse group of researchers—from the fields of education, linguistics, musicology, computer science, artificial intelligence, and psychology—to work together, remotely.

Researchers can study and record a person’s learning experiences in a multimedia lab and then share this data via a digital audiovisual library. Cohen hopes to help shape how we integrate various forms of media into classrooms and other learning environments.

“Compared to the span of human history, multimedia is still so new. CFI funding is allowing us to push the boundaries of our understanding of how it can best serve the way we will learn, work, and be entertained in the future,” says Cohen.