So that survey thing on Friday worked out pretty well, huh? I think that’s about the most comments I’ve gotten on any one post, and the range of responses was really interesting, at least to me. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling more and more like the Web can and eventually will change everything about the classroom. But it’s also become even more clear to me that as Tom and Joe (who it’s so good to hear from) and many others so correctly point out, without regular access to the Web, none of it matters. And I think that what’s becoming even clearer is that now that the Web has evolved into a place where creating and sharing knowledge is as easy as consuming it, the longer it takes to get every student access, the farther behind they are going to fall.
I’ve said many times that my own ideas about all of this come less from my 20 years in the classroom as from my personal learning experiences over the last five years. I have learned more, read more, thought more, debated more, written more and been more passionate about learning through blogging than I ever was in any classroom with any teacher. And I chalk almost all of that up to the ability to pursue topics that truly interest me and the ability to find and to learn from teachers who are living those interests, not just relaying information about them. The fact that I can access those ideas and those people, and my ability to then contribute back to the community of learners that has developed around these interactions have literally transformed my life.
You know, for all intents and purposes, I look at this space as my Ed.D. acquired with just as much depth as any traditional program could offer, requiring just as much thinking and and reading and writing, held to (I think) an even higher standard of accountability, and rooted in real practice, not absract theory. (And did I mention, the cost?) So I can’t put the letters behind my name. And yes, I know, the traditional research element may be missing. But I mean really, so what? I’ll stand on this body of work any day. (And my dissertation will be out in March, with any luck…) I found everything, everyone I needed on the Web.
But for the Web to truly change everything about the classroom, my experience has to scale to some degree. Because it’s been true for me, does that mean it can be true for everyone? I guess that depends upon whether or not we believe that every child or every person is capable of being passionate about learning. (And, of course, that every child has access.) If we do, then shouldn’t our first role as teachers be to steer our students toward their passions, and to teach them how to truly be independent lifelong learners in the process? That doesn’t mean that we stop teaching the basic competencies that we find important for whatever discipline we address. It doesn’t mean, as Joe says, that teachers can’t create wonderful learning experiences and connect to kids without technology. And it doesn’t mean that kids don’t need the social aspects that come with face to face interaction. But it does mean that we need to reframe what our classrooms are all about. It goes back to that collect vs. connect conversation. If we see our students as mere recepticles of information that has to be repeated back to us at some point, we miss out on the power that passionate learners have. But if we see them as George Siemens does, as points of connection to much larger ideas and people and knowledge, then our jobs become much different.
I’ve written about this before too: my biggest fear is that my own kids are going to have a passion for learning sucked right out of them. Last week at open house, one of my kids’ teachers started by saying “First grade is where we learn to follow the rules.” I almost gasped. Shouldn’t first grade be where kids explore and experiment and start to develop a real desire to learn? And shouldn’t it be a place where we start to connect them to information and sources that will fuel their passions? My son Tucker, for instance, can’t get enough of Google Earth. He just picks random places and looks for bridges or rivers or dams or canyons, and asks thousands of questions along the way. He’s learning all sorts of things in the context of what interests him. He’s already understanding what the world really looks like, that, because HE can zoom in and take a look, people really live in mud huts in Africa in the middle of the desert and tend cattle and own colorful blankets. He can find it, see it, explore it, own it in ways that he never could with text or a movie. It’s, as David Weinberger says, joyful. I wonder if he feels that same joy at school?
And I think that’s the main reason the Web changes everything. We all can own it. We can make the decisions about what’s relevant to our own learning, not be dependent on what others decide for us. It’s empowering. Which takes it all full circle. Joyful, connected learners will learn more, I would think. Another reason why not having access will make the divide even greater.
Aaron Nelson says
Fantastic post. I would like to tell you that your blog, and the ideas you’ve been exploring have been of great importance to me. You’re helping me to think about so many issues, and I just want to thank you.
I too have been wrestling with the whole digital divide train of thought. All the big changes in how we learn, and how we should be teaching, depend greatly on technology. I too am curious about how these kinds of learning experiences can be created in “un-plugged” classrooms. Sadly, the digitally privileged are few, and therefore those who have access to this exciting world of digitally enhanced learning, are also few.
The comment “without regular access to the web none of it matters” is a strong but good one. Shouldn’t we, the “information have’s” begin working hard, and REALLY hard, to begin pushing for equal distribution? Or will we be content to allow the electronic world to go the way of the economic world we already live in – wealth concentrated in the wallets and bank accounts of a few, leaving the vast majority of the rest of the world, crushed and being crushed around us?
Look at this interesting article on the Fast Company blog which links to this very cool idea:The $100 laptop. Now the big question is this: If regular access to the web is so vital to learning today, how can we begin to get behind projects like this one, to help bridge and begin to destroy the learning divide?
As teachers in the “plugged in” classroom, how can we help our students get involved in projects like these? They will, afterall, become the decision makers of the future who will likely be in position in some cases, to help create learner equality.
A holistic approach to teaching and learning in the digital age should be teachers connecting students, throwing wide the door to our classrooms to the rest of the world. Realizing that I learn best when I am connecting my network to nodes of interest around me, and am using what I get from those connections to create my own nodes of interest to be connected to by others. But I need to also develop a realization that just because I have these amazing connections, that I have a connected computer – or access to one – does not mean that the rest of the world has one. I need to develop a drive to begin breaking down the digital divide, and become a responsible digital learner who is not content to allow my neighbor to go without. Helping my class, helping myself, to get behind projects like the $100 laptop is a very practical way I can take a stand against the growing divide.
This is digitally speaking. Wouldn’t it be great to adapt a similar approach to food, to shelter, to energy etc? There is more than just a digital divide that must be broken down in the world today…
John Pederson says
As I read this, my 3 year old daughter is begging me to put Pete’s Pond (http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/wildcamafrica/wildcam.html) on her blog. (http://pedersondesigns.com/claire)
When asked “What did you do at school today?”, she told me about standing in line, Clifford, and the color of apples.
I’m trying to get her to talk about Pete’s Pond at school.
Ewan McIntosh says
The digital divide is not just an issue affecting kids and their access to computers out of the classroom. We’re still finding teachers here with one networked computer per classroom (and sometimes none in operational order) and horrendously slow or unreliable connection. So teachers are turned off from using any tools – they don’t see the point investing time in learning how to use the internet more effectively so that they can pass this on their kids. Their attitude is also rubbing off on the kids.
Unfortunately, ICT planning and roll-out is normally done by non-educationalists who don’t get these kinds of arguments. They complain about us downloading rich media, webcams, audio. As far as they are concerned it can only be Bad Things that come through such media. Personal websites are also banned – including yours, Will! In the offices of our Government anything containing the word ‘blog’ is also blocked by the over-zealous firewall.
Perhaps we should start an international campaign to get this sorted. What are we protecting our students from? The real world?
Graham Wegner says
Re:”.. my biggest fear is that my own kids are going to have a passion for learning sucked right out of them.”
I too was startled and concerned at your child’s first grade teacher’s comments. However your worst case scenanio for your kids is that they have the passion for school sapped, not learning. If your blog is a first hand example of your own passion for learning (and it is!) then you are the most powerful model for purposeful learning they could ever need. I know that the Australian School system is different to the U.S. but I’d hope that a teacher whose key goal for their class is to establish compliance is not in the vast majority. My son’s primary school (elementary) is very much along the lines of personal improvement and individualised goals. Most Aussie teachers are in tune with that mindset although we have a large majority who are still uncomfortable with the bigger picture use of technology in the classroom. I don’t think that enough (teachers) can or will immerse themselves in the Read/Write web to gain the professional (and personal) learning benefits of reflective blogging. So, that’s a problem in terms of teachers becoming connectors in our kids’ classrooms but I guess it is the role of educators like yourself and the readers of this blog to spread the word and influence the way forward.