Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a few themes that have caught my attention. Now, a few of them are very positive, like the Future of Education that is being hosted by George Siemens over at University of Manitoba. Another is planning, especially for the summer months as many teachers prepare for some time off and away from the school. Now, I would have thought that many more positive ventures regarding education and technological tools would be blossoming forth given the onset of the summer. Instead, we still seem to be up against a social resistance to using technology in schools because of what might happen. More recently is the suggestion that the internet is “dumbing down” society and we’re now set to live in mediocrity, this according to Andrew Keen.
First, I thank Vicki Davis for her post on the subject of mediocrity and the response from Brian Grenier and his awesome pic. I believe that Vicki sums up the thoughts of many who are working to make the internet a better place when she says
I am a teacher, and we teach that we do not call names. I would put Andrew Keen in the corner for calling me or anyone else who disagrees with him, a monkey.
Additionally, I think that his blanket, inaccurate statements could result in many people simply covering their ears and saying “Na na na na, I can’t hear you” like the obstinate brother trying to drown out the sound of his sister singing tiptoe through the tulips.
It also reminds me of those who would stop their ears as they rushed to burn heretics at the stake. Listening to the opinions of others (yes, even Keen’s) is a good thing. Listening to only one side is not.
Now, combined with this, there seems to be this continuation of a native/immigrant divide that just won’t go away. Karyn over at Karyn’s erratic journey begins a very good discussion about this whole idea.
The speaker was talking about digital natives, and the concept had the chat channel buzzing. Is it relevant? Valid? Will people who were born into the era of the computer be noticeably different from those who had to “migrate” to the technology?
Now, anyone who has read my writing over the past few months knows that I do not agree with this whole idea on several levels. I don’t think that putting people on sides and then giving a description to those sides helps build bridges. In fact, one of the greatest problems we face as educators is that many in society are seeing only the negative of the internet as reported by the media. Instead of the great projects like Vicki and Julie’s Horizon Project being celebrated in the media, we are continually be exposed to the negatives that occasionally happen. The media, from which Andrew Keen seems to have taken his cue, continues to malign the internet as a sinister place where bad people roam searching for the souls of the youth to corrupt them or where the mediocre live, dispensing their ideas as grand. This is further hindered because there is little hope of an immigrant really understanding the world of the native so it can be dismissed without “educated society” really trying to see how the two fit together.
Now, Marc Prensky, the person behind the digital native/immigrant idea, does say that an immigrant may enter the world of the native but will always be an immigrant. However, as Karyn points out, that would mean that anyone alive before the advent of a societal shift in technology would be an immigrant - like telephone immigrants or cellphone immigrants or , or, or. We’d just continue to create immigrant/native divides, looking at when you were born instead of what you can do. Does this make any sense? So what will the next group be called - you know the one’s born when all this is wireless and there is greater open source production, when each house has unlimited access to internet through highspeed and we’re all connected? If people born before are immigrants then will the natives become immigrants and those later become the natives with now two classes of immigrants and natives? I actually thought this was suppose to bring things together not separate them out! So maybe we need to just dispel this whole idea of immigrant/native and move to a continuum of learning where we have early adopters through to novice learners and as you learn how to use different technologies and bring together different tools, you move up the continuum.
With this in mind, we might be able to work at dispelling the myth that the internet is “evil” and, with immersion and education, it can become a place of great intellectual action while at the same time allowing that not everyone wants to be involved in the pursuit of knowledge - some people want to rant about the refereeing during the NHL playoffs or post comments about the two-tiered system that appears to allow for the rich and famous to get special treatment.
This is also where we need to emphasize that what schools are doing with these tools is a bit different than what is happening on Facebook and MySpace and other social websites. Schools are looking at using the tools in a learning environment. This means they are looking at creating something that will demonstrate understanding of a topic or idea using the tools and the various information gathering items that are available via the internet. Schools do not want to create “safe” MySpaces where kids chat about whatever they like in a safe manner. Schools are looking to create projects that allow student to interact globally under the supervision of teachers, where there are learning goals that specifically define what they are to do. The best example I’ve seen of this is the Horizon Project. Can you imagine the unofficial learning objectives that were fulfilled (global citizenship, cultural integration) never mind the actual ones.
Unfortunately the media does not seem to want anything to do with such things - it is positive and all. My last week was very busy so I didn’t have time to take in many of the Future of Education discussions or presentations. What hasn’t escaped my attention is that there is absolutely no mention of this convention in the mainstream media despite the fact that this is a huge thing for education. Why is that? My hunch is that media wants to continue to show the face of the internet and education being less than stellar. Highlight the teacher with kiddie porn but not the people working diligently to better education using the tools that, in the near future, will become the dominant tools of teaching. Leave the nagging suspicion that the teen who goes on a shooting rampage was somehow linked to evil through the internet but don’t highlight those students who are reaching out to other students to offer assistance and help.
This, to me, is the whole crux of why those of us working to bring this forward are struggling and seem almost stalled. We still live under this “immigrant/native” banner that has, unfortunately, created a divide that people are accepting. Given this acceptance, is it a wonder that adults are kind of dismissing this mode of interaction as another “teenage fad”. They are uncomfortable with how the youth are changing their habits of communication and interaction. So, instead of trying to make sense of this, adopting parts that lend themselves to building better social systems, they are continuing to adhere to the past structures especially in schools where they, as adults, want to feel comfortable with what is happening. So, instead of being open to changes, we are seeing resistance to adopting these tools because people are too easily convinced by the media that the social networks of the youth will breed evil when in fact schools aren’t wanting to recreate these networks but want access to the growing number of opensource tools that will allow the students to demonstrate their understanding through what they create and through their collaboration with other youth across the country and around the globe.
Maybe it’s time to reframe the conversation around a learning continuum, highlighting that we may in fact be encountering at a type of intelligence, digital intelligence, which lends itself to a way of learning through digital mediums and is growing as we have more children entering school who have been exposed to this way of communication and interaction. We need to continue to focus on the facts about internet safety, putting forth our case while not ignoring that, yes, sometimes students will access inappropriate material. But haven’t they always? Check out Dean Shareski’s posts about this topic for a good understanding of how the general public is being misled.
With about three weeks left in school, I’m looking forward to this summer. I’m looking forward to the time to recharge myself, get some rest and have fun with my children. I’m looking forward to evenings on the deck sipping iced tea and listening to birds. But, I’m also looking forward to some uninterrupted time to plan how this upcoming year will be a year where the school where I am administrator will move forward technologically. Where we will look at a continuum of learning for teachers and students. Where learning will become something for all - something fun that we can be proud of and display for others and where parents will be included in our learning - some of them need to know more about what is happening - to become informed. I don’t know how this will happen yet but I have a whole summer to plan things out.