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All Of A Sudden (It’s Too Late)

October 11, 2009

Immigrants? Natives? Tourists? Ingénues? Genius? Put the word digital in front of any of these and you are thrust into the problem of trying to label where we are with our kids and their relationship with the new media landscape. Of course, in many cases, we’ve missed the point.

"MC Mechanic" ©2009 Shane Wallis. Used with permission.

"MC Mechanic" ©2009 Shane Wallis. Used with permission.

David Warlick has just posted his opening description for the session he is proposing for ISTE 2010. As ever with David, he has provided a very astute in his reading of the conference theme: Integrate Technology. As David implies out in his proposal, we are already too late because for our students:

…it is merely the road ways of their daily and minute-by-minute travels and the tentacles of their nearly constant hyper-connectively.

I have never felt particularly comfortable with Marc Prensky‘s Digital Immigrants or Natives (PDF Download). Something about the term has always struck me as not quite right, maybe the realisation that I wasn’t really seeing any influx of media savvy youngsters hitting the schools who showed a greater understanding of the power of the technology… but that aside, it has been a useful shorthand for explaining to those just learning about the new media landscape. The reality is that our pupils don’t see it as anything special: for them, it is just what they use. Our problem is that we see it as something fantastic we can use to enhance learning… but are thwarted at every turn from using. For the pupils and students, it is something that is so integrated in who they are that they can’t relate it to their learning because the average classroom experience we offer them is often a ‘technology free’ zone.

This is ridiculous! The societal change happening because of new means of connecting isn’t coming in the next few years. It’s here. Now! We’re right in the middle of it, except it doesn’t have a start and it doesn’t have an end so we’re not really in the middle either… it is the natural process of adopting and adapting to take account of new ideas. This is part of the problem. By trying to parcel up the changes into a nice little narrative with a clear cut Beginning/Middle/End, we try to control how this knowledge is handed out, and education appears to have a vested interest in keeping our children in the dark and in doing so, we leave them to make their own way through the maze of texts without any guiding along the way.

Or how about this. If we leave the children to their own devices (literally and metaphorically), they majority of them will see school as something separate from their ‘real’ lives. It is the place where they go and have to remember rather than the place they to to find out. It will be like visiting a kindly older relative who doesn’t really understand how the video works, let alone the internet.

Some people do realise this. In an interview published in the Observer, Mick Brookes, the General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, has called for a review of the ban on mobile phones in the classroom. As he says:

We have to recognise the world that children inhabit, not expect them to leave it at the school gate.

Unfortunately, he will face strong opposition from the likes of Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT who replied by saying that:

Modern mobiles are so small that children can use them surreptitiously under the desks to text each other instead of concentrating on the lesson…
No one would disagree with Mick Brookes that we want technology to enhance children’s learning, but there are other ways of doing it.

Other ways of doing it? Like what? We learn by doing, by being shown appropriate and useful methods for harnessing the power in our devices. If we want our learning to be effective, we get the pupils to ‘do’, to create, to demonstrate what they have learned. In fact, if you look at Keates words carefully, you’ll notice she is talking about ‘enhancing’ pupils’ learning… which to me sounds awfully like another dose of interactive whiteboards being used to ‘enhance’ a lesson as opposed to the clear signal from Brookes that we should be teaching kids how to use it.

And I love the obvious flaw in Keates argument about misuse of mobile phones… After all, if teachers are encouraged to tell classes to take their mobile phones out and put them on the desk, then they can see them and know how they are being used. It’s very hard to use it ‘surreptitiously’ if it is a tool with as much validity as a pen or pencil or calculator…

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 8:20 am

    “However Dr Danah Boyd who now works for Microsoft argues that there are also no such things as “digital natives.” Just because many of today’s youngsters are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t. Most (teachers) have a better sense of how to get information from Google than the average student. Most of you know how to navigate privacy settings of a social media tool better than the average teen. Understanding technology requires learning. Sure, there are countless kids engaged in informal learning every day when they go online. But what about all of those who lack access? Or who live in a community where learning how to use technology is not valued? Or who tries to engage alone? There’s an ever-increasing participation gap emerging between the haves and the have-nots. What distinguishes the groups is not just a question of access, although that is an issue; it’s also a question of community and education and opportunities for exploration. Youngsters learn through active participation, but phrases like “digital natives” obscure the considerable learning that occurs to enable some youth to be technologically fluent while others fail to engage.”

    We see teenagers using t’interwebthingie and social media with ‘ease’ but how many know what a Blue Screen of death is and how to resolve software/hardware problems? Very few..

  2. October 12, 2009 8:22 am

    Sorry forgot the original paper she wrote.

  3. October 13, 2009 8:53 pm

    ‘children can use them surreptitiously under the desks to text each other instead of concentrating on the lesson…’
    Weren’t there similar worries about the pencil when it was first introduced in classrooms?
    You’re right to say that we are working still in virtually technology free zones and still technology is seen as separate to what is going on in most classrooms!


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