I’ve been feeling discouraged lately in my conversations with people about education. Maybe I’ve been talking to a small sample of people, but I’m feeling really peeved at the moment (and it may be because of lack of sleep).
I’m not sure if the endless circular conversation – between those who see the value of technology in education and those who dont’ – is even worth the effort. Yes, I’m not in a very positive frame of mind currently. I don’t find I have the energy or patience to continue, but I still want to reflect on what the problem is.
It’s not a problem that centres on technology at all. It’s a problem that centres around the very human aspect of dialogue. Dialogue which depends on two (or more) people listening to each other and making a real effort to understand what the other person is saying.
I’m sick and tired of entering into a conversation where I’m asked to justify my belief that technology is an important aspect of transformed learning, learning that has to change with the times in order to prepare us all for the way the world works and the way it will work in our students’ future. Most of the time I find that I’m cornered into petty justification because the other person is coming from a personal conviction and will, at all costs, aim to knock me off my beliefs to prove an ultimately negative point. This is not a dialogue. Cornering someone so that they desperately try to stick up for their beliefs while ignoring the larger argument is not dialogue. It radically narrows the scope of information which would otherwise offer a larger, more informative picture.
Me: I believe that technology offers new possibilities in learning (*very aware that this is a broad and ambiguous statement which needs comprehensive explanation*)
Other: What’s all the hype about technology? Does it really teach ‘them’ anything? Or is it a just a gadget, the latest fad?
Me: Technology offers possibilities for creating and connecting with others.
Other: I know all about that. It’s been proven that kids no longer have personal skills because they are using technology too much.
Me: They are learning the skills of online interaction
Other: I read/saw on TV how dangerous online involvement is, and how it isolates kids, how it takes them into dangerous zones which their parents don’t know about, how bad it is.
Me: You have to look at the real evidence. The media is often one-sided and sensationalises a small part of the picture
Other: But I heard an interview about it and these people are reliable; this information is authoritative.
Me: There are many wonderful connections kids can make to the real world and real people outside the classroom to make learning relevant
Other: (confused look) What are they learning by talking to each other? Is there any academic value?
And then the conversation reverts back to All Things Negative in terms of Any Kind of Change with regard to What Is Considered Sacred about Education, and it’s Sacred because That’s The Way It Was, and That’s The Way It’s Always Been, so all of this new stuff is Bad. We should probably go back to Grammar and stay safe teaching Facts. Numbers, Dates. Like my own education where I studied the Victorian Year Book and copied out fascinating information about how much rainfall and wheat we had in Victoria in a certain year (the one that had passed). Fascinating facts about sheep and sewerage, I’ll never forget that (except for the facts themselves).
Ok, so now you’ve fully realised how down I am about this argument. I just have to point out that the worst thing about that kind of ‘discussion’ is that you never end up saying what you want to say, but you end up sounding like a crazed evangelist, ready to die for your cause – and I hate that. I’m not a crazed evangelist, I have much more to say and show you if only you would listen. The problem is about listening and wanting to hear, not about technology itself. It’s an age-old problem of failure to listen.
If I had a chance to talk to the ‘other person’ without being pushed into a corner, I would question their negative association with the word ‘technology’. I think this is a wide-reaching association. Technology = computers, dangerous online involvement, unhealthy focus on what is not real, and therefore what takes you away from real, people-to-people contact.
But technology is also TV. Do you watch TV? Does it stop you from going out of the house? (If so, then it’s your personal problem) Or does it offer a window into the world?
Do you use a telephone? Does it stop you from seeing your friends and family in person? Or does it offer you an opportunity to chat more often in between visits?
Yes, it changes the way we live. Some of us held off getting a mobile phone in the early days (we didn’t need it? we’d lived without it), but now we can’t imagine going out without it? Good or bad? It’s something worth investigating more deeply. But it’s here to stay, and it’s technological capacities are growing fast. Change is difficult; some of us jump on the bandwagon and others yell insults at the bandwagon from afar. What we need to remember is that, like it or not, the way we function in the world is changing, and we would be wise to jump on so that we know what we’re dealing with. So that we know what kind of support and education we need to give our kids. So that they’re ready for their world. Are we thinking about this? Are we looking forward or backward?
This morning I followed a link posted by @scmorgan on Twitter which led me to an article on the Edutopia website:
Kids create and critique on social networks.
The first couple of paragraphs grabbed my attention.
In the common conception, kids plus social networking equals an online popularity contest conducted in grammar-free instant-messaging lingo — not exactly an educator’s dream world. But the Chicago-based Digital Youth Network, a digital-literacy program funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has tapped into the networking phenomenon to encourage creativity and learning.
The Digital Youth Network runs a private Web site called Remix World, which is modeled on popular online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.
This ning works like Facebook where students can create a space (their page) which is their own style, and where they can post their work and receive feedback from their peers, take part in discussion, and give and receive constructive criticism. Sharing with the class (or other classes) is more engaging because they care more about what their peers have to say than what their teacher has to say, and they want to show what they can do. They develop confidence in themselves when they realise they can help out or contribute to a discussion. It’s all there for the class to see; their contribution amongst everyone else’s. They don’t remain invisible or unheard. They have a place, a voice, a unique style.
When students are motivated to create work that they share online, it ignites an independent learning cycle driven by their ideas and energized by responses from peers.
That’s the theory, but let’s hear it from the kids
Twelve-year-old Jalen (also the subject of an Edutopia video profile) is among those who’ve taken their work to a larger audience on YouTube and elsewhere. “I post online because I don’t want it to just be on my computer, where nobody can see it,” Jalen says of his work, which includes graphic art, videos (both remixed mash-ups and some using original footage), and computer games. “I get positive and negative feedback, but it helps me get better and better,” he says.
“One guy on YouTube told me it was a good video, but the timing was off,” he remembers of one project that got mixed feedback. “So I went back and edited it.”
The article also talks about another student who created his own social network. He didn’t follow a prescriptive set of teacher-created instructions.
“I didn’t learn from anywhere particularly,” Mosea says about creating his network. “I just experimented.”
Experts say that, even more than the digital world in general, collaborative Web 2.0 tools in particular can motivate self-directed learning.
Students creating and publishing online within their own community is the first step to compelling learning, but the deepest learning takes place in the commenting and conversation which follows:
“While the ability to publish and to share is powerful in and of itself, most of the learning occurs in the connections and conversation that occur after we publish,” argues education blogger Will Richardson
Of couse, this kind of learning is not automatic or without its problems. But this is where the teaching part of it comes in. Teacher support is more important than ever for these new experiences to be successful. It’s not a matter of handing over to technology, stepping back and expecting self-directed learning to naturally take place. Nothing could be further from the truth, as teachers who have worked with online networks have discovered.
Researcher Christine Greenhow cautions that the virtual world can also present its own barriers to independent learning. “Students can get easily distracted,” she observes. “There are so many nonlearning paths, so we need to help them stay focused.”
And there’s the rub. If those against technology think that kids just jump in and need no supervision, they’re wrong. Wherever kids are and whatever they do, they need supervision and support. As parents, we shouldn’t leave them to their online activities without taking a real interest in what’s going on – and I don’t mean looking over their shoulders with a critical eye. I mean engaging in conversation where we learn what they’re doing, and why they like doing it. Or even trying some of these things out ourselves. As teachers, we shouldn’t leave them with the laptop and Google, and expect them to navigate a positive and successful learning experience.
To finish, I apologize for my rave – I think it’s something I needed to get off my chest to reduce mounting frustration.
Finally, technology is about the people who use it. Let’s demystify it, let’s try to understand it before we judge it, let’s acknowledge that it’s increasingly the way the world functions, and learn how to make the most of it.