I recently caught up with discussions surrounding Gary Stager’s critique of Michael Wesch’s video, “A Vision of Students Today.” Gary posted his thoughts to his blogger site in the post “Are We Impressed Because College Students Can Use Google Docs?” and to the DA Pulse blog in the post “Hey Mom! Look What I Made in College!” Of all the replies to these entries as well as related posts, I found the following paragraph in Michael’s response “Clarifications on ‘A Vision’” to be most thought provoking:
But while teaching has not changed, learning has. Students are learning to read, navigate, and create within a digital information environment that we scarcely address in the classroom. The great myth is that these “digital natives” know more about this new information environment than we do. But here’s the reality: they may be experts in entertaining themselves online, but they know almost nothing about educating themselves online. They may be learning about this digital information environment despite us, but they are not reaching the levels of understanding that are necessary as this digital information environment becomes increasingly pervasive in all of our lives. All of the classic skills we learned in relation to a print-based information universe are important, and must now be augmented by a critical understanding of the workings of digital information.
The key phrase in this for me was, “…they may be experts in entertaining themselves online, but they know almost nothing about educating themselves online…..” The contention that many professors and instructors in higher education appear to be similarly ignorant about how to educate themselves in the online environment is also important to note. HOWEVER… Gary’s point that the entire higher education environment is not “out of step” with good teaching practices or with the effective uses of digital technologies to support learning and inquiry is also valid. Sweeping generalizations are always going to miss the mark in some cases. This is true of higher education contexts as in K-12 settings. Acknowledging exceptions to generalizations certainly DO exist, however, does not cancel out the utility of making general points about the predominantly content-delivery focused paradigm of higher education, as well as much of K-12 education which Michael Wesch is making in this video.
I do find great value in using videos like this one in professional development settings with in-service and preservice teachers. That was one of the main points I attempted to make in my comment to Gary’s post last week and again this evening.
I don’t read or understand Prof Wesch as advocating for student use of Google Documents, Animoto, or any other web 2.0 tool as a panacea for the challenges which face us in education. I don’t think David Warlick is making that point either. To suggest that either of them is making that point is to setup a straw man position for rhetorical purposes. Rather than argue that “web 2.0 tools are going to save us,” I understand Prof Wesch to be calling for a fundamental shift in our perceptions and expectations of 21st century teaching and learning. This is a theme echoed by many others, but well articulated visually by Prof Wesch and his students in this video, I think. My wife started reading Alfie Kohn’s book “The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”” this past weekend, and the excerpts she shared with me also echo this theme.
The general conclusion that “education needs to change in broad terms” is relatively easy to grasp after watching this video, or many others similar to it. The most difficult question to answer, however, is “what do we do to change how we are teaching?” shared by Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue and echoed by Michael Wesch. There are multiple answers to this question, but some of my main thoughts on this subject include the following:
- Address the issue of instructional TIME effectively: There is too much to “cover” and teach now, and the same 24 day is available to learners now as students had in 1897 when John Dewey wrote his pedagogic creed. Particularly in K-12 contexts, but also in higher education, we must reduce the QUANTITY of material and information studied and covered and increase the quality as well as depth of inquiry and analysis. We need to grapple directly with many of the assumptions of the educational standards movement, so we can can emphasize the cultivation of habits of mind like those of Ted Sizer rather than the focus on rote learning and simple memorization which passes for “documented learning outcomes” in many classrooms today. Memorization CAN be important and useful for learning and development, but it should NOT be considered the “endgame” for learning outcomes. Bloom’s Taxonomy should guide learning activities much more than historical precedents for learning activities. We need to do what is BEST for students and their learning inside and outside of classrooms, rather than those things which are merely convenient, easy, or traditional.
- Ubiquitous digital tool use: Laptops are 21st Century Pencils. Pencils are not sufficient. Yet paper and pencil activities continue to predominate in most of the schools in which I work in the midwest of the United States. We need a broad-based vision throughout our communities and legislative statehouses for 1:1 learning focusing on regular content CREATION as well as COLLABORATION. Merely dumping laptops on a traditional model of teaching and learning would be a travesty, and an expensive waste of money. Our educational system needs an upgrade in “headware” as well as “hardware,” and the former is much more difficult to achieve than the latter.
- Bell schedules must change: Our current system of bell schedules and discrete content areas at the K-12 level is comfortable and familiar to many, but it does not serve the learning needs of students in the 21st century. In the real world, engineers do not pause and say, “Wait! It’s time to stop using math and now start using our language arts skills. Let’s see if we can accurately diagram this sentence.” Real world learning is integrated, it is thematic, and it is always connected to existing schema / background knowledge. Facts are rarely ever remembered outside of formal school contexts (or within them for that matter) when they are studied in isolation. Only when ideas, concepts, skills and dispositions are connected with each other do they become meaningful in the minds and lives of learners. Bell schedules must change to accommodate a more integrated, thematic and truly learner-centered approach toward education.
- Learning tasks and assessments must become more differentiated and authentic: In the real world outside of classrooms, no one takes a spelling test. People do, however, frequently write documents for varying audiences and share oral presentations to achieve different goals. Learning tasks and assessments in schools need to change, so learners are more regularly engaged in literacy activities which have correlates in the world outside of schools. As Kate Smith said at ACTEM 2007, as educators we need to understand our role fundamentally as helping to cultivate students’ literacy skills. Too often, especially at secondary and post-secondary levels, teachers define themselves more as the purveyors of content rather than the educators and challengers of young minds. Needed educational reform involves successfully redefining who the “educator” in the classroom actually is, and the roles s/he performs within and outside the formally defined boundaries of “the classroom.”
- Graduation requirements must change: This probably sounds like revolutionary heresy, but I contend that our present system of “credits” required for high school graduation in the United States needs to fundamentally change. So a student has taken three years of Spanish and earned passing grades. Can they speak two complete sentences in the Spanish language, which is intelligible by a native speaker? So a student has completed courses in United States history and world history… Can they carry on an intelligent conversation with an adult about how historical precedents and events relate to current international situations like the war in Iraq or the struggle for human rights in Burma? So a student has completed a course in English literature… Did s/he read an entire book, from cover to cover, as s/he earned that passing grade in the class? We need students who emerge from our schools with demonstrable knowledge, skills, and dispositions rather than simply passing grades on a transcript. Assessments need to change and digital portfolios need to develop which genuinely reflect each learner’s current capacities for critical thinking, sustained inquiry, and effective communication.
More changes are needed, but those are some of the BIG ones that stand out for me today. Again, the key question to consider is HOW are we going to change? Acknowledging our need for change is a good first step, but by itself, is insufficient to bring about the changes we need to see both in instructional practices by teachers and professors, and in the perceptions and expectations of learning which are held more generally within our communities.
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On this day..
- Academic Journal Paywalls are Educationally Counter-Productive and WRONG - 2012
- Pocketbook Tablets and Commoditization of Touch Technologies - 2010
- Join us on Classroom 2.0 Live Talking K12Online09 Saturday - 2009
- 4 More K12Online09 Teasers! - 2009
- Reflections about old jails, land appraisal, and high speed infrastructure in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas - 2008
- A workshop first - 2006
- Preferred communication - 2006
- Hawaii iChat pics - 2006
- Nominate a tech-savvy superintendent - 2006
- Boredom and engagement - 2006