Friday, January 16, 2009

A Radical Notion: Who Are Today's Learners? (Hint: Ask them.)

I played Atari when I was a kid. The first one. It had a joystick. That’s it. Now we have the Wii, the seventh generation of console games systems, which detects movements in three dimensions. And the Xbox with it’s 10 button wireless controller that vibrates, headsets, remotes, steering wheels, and so on. I still have one of these in my basement. 2 buttons and a directional. That’s as far as I’ve been able to come in the video game revolution.

I’ve fared better with computers.

Home computers entered the market a few years before I was born, but few people had them. The first time I ever used a computer was in fifth grade. We managed to get one computer, a MacIntosh, that we’d take turns on. It was great. Of course, no Internet then, but we played with that still-great Kid Pix.

Utterly amazed at this technology, I managed to convince my parents not long after that to get one. We still have it. The MacIntosh II. Simple word processing, simple games.

Later in middle school, the schools started to move to the idea of computer labs. We had one attached to the library. We played the original Oregon Trail. (I loved that game.) Back when floppy disks were floppy. And huge.

High school, we used computers to take typing classes. For word processing. Some spreadsheets. Still had that MacIntosh at the house.

We had a different computer some weekends, at my Dad's house. PC. Had Internet. Old-style, where you had to dial up, listen to the ringing and buzzing, and hope it would go through. That was 94, 95. Just when the World Wide Web was entering the mainstream. I was 14. I wouldn’t have full time access to the Internet until I went to college.

Funnily enough, as a member of my generation, called the Millennials, Generation Y, the iGeneration, the Net Generation, I’m old. The general earliest demarcation of the generation is 78. I was born a few years later. The last cutoff for the generation is about 2000. My experience, and that of a child born in 2000, or even 1990, is hugely different with respect to technology. I’m among the last of people who remember life before the Internet. I used card catalogues. I wrote letters. I had a Pen Pal I bought international postage for. I bought CDs. Well, records, tapes, and then CDs. I used phone books and asked people for directions. Or got a trip ticket from Triple A. I wrote, privately, in my diary. I had to call people to stay in touch. I had to call the movie theater, and listen to the whole automated thing to find out what time my movie was playing. I researched in the encyclopedia. Britannica. I called my friends before I left the house to tell them I would be there in 10 minutes. I made tapes by putting one boom box next to the other and keeping my finger on the record button.

Not a single one of the students I will teach will know that life.

Perhaps more importantly, I won’t know theirs. Technology may be the most significant realm of the curriculum where teachers now entering the field must be prepared to learn from their students. Constructivist theory shows us the importance of learner backgrounds, of meeting our students where they are, so to speak, to connect new learning with personal experience to make education meaningful.

Christine Greenhow’s article, Who Are Today’s Learners? provides an excellent starting place for doing this. She reports on a survey of attitudes, use and knowledge of technology in today’s students. The survey also does what some might call radical, what I would call necessary: asks students their recommendations. Their advice for teachers.

Students report enjoying technology the most in their school day, and recommend engagement on their level of technology use (outside the traditional educational uses such as word processing, spreadsheets, research). Students imagined “more “creative,” “interactive,” and “media-oriented,” classrooms” where wireless, portable technologies were the norm. They also recommended “loosening up” restrictions on technology and incorporating some of the technologies they use at home into the classroom, such as “mobile computing and Web 2.0.”

Web 2.0 includes things like blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and video sharing sites, among just to name a few. Some in the field look at Web 2.0 as the “participatory Internet,” while Web 1.0 is “Information-source Internet.”

If you’re anything like me, stuck somewhere around Web 1.5, this site may be of interest, linking to a plethora of sites considered Web 2.0.

The World Wide Web is often the only place I feel old. My sister, only seven years younger than me, knows her way around Facebook much better than I, always knows the latest mp3 site, and is constantly introducing me to cool new sites.

If we can keep up, we can do some pretty great things in the class through technology. Social networking across the globe to raise awareness about the cause students are working on. Comparing cultures by sharing pictures with students thousands of miles away. Chat rooms for homework help or literature discussions. And so on.

We’re probably always going to be playing catch-up. But we’re lucky. We’ve got our students to teach us.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this posting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This was a wonderful illustration of Greenhow's article.

    And yes, we need to figure out how to teach our students for their future, not for our past.