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.