Staying Behind to Get Ahead

Eight years ago, I assigned a video project to my students.  They had to create, design, direct, film and edit propaganda commercials.  Today, this is a fairly commonplace assignment and we often require students to create videos.  Eight years ago though, movie-editing software was just coming out into the mainstream, and frankly, I did not know how to use it.  But my students did, and as their teacher, I saw its value.

I was their English teacher.  I gave them the tools and the skills to create and develop the commercials.  I also grouped them so that there was at least one person with experience editing videos.  They had the assignment, the skills, the tools and the expertise.  And they designed some phenomenal commercials.  I am still not very adept at this, and that’s okay.  As an educator, it is my job to facilitate learning and recognize the strengths of my students.

Last week, Jeff wrote, “Give up the dream of ever ‘catching up’ it ain’t gonna happen. Sit back, relax and smile. You will forever be behind.”  As educators, I think it is essential that we recognize this and give up the idea that we will ever know everything.  As Jeff said, information is growing exponentially, and if we are ever to learn, we have to experiment.

Too often, we don’t experiment in the classroom for one of two reasons:  1) we don’t know enough about it and believe we need to be the experts in order to teach it to students step by step, or 2) we fear not knowing enough and being unable to answer student questions.  If we operate from either of these beliefs, we will forever fall further and further behind, hence disconnecting our classrooms even more from the digital age and our students’ lives.

It is exhilarating to be given a project and be given the freedom to think it through and create the answer.  In Bloom’s New Taxonomy, creating is the highest order of thought.  Hence, we can give our students tasks that we have yet to master and then learn along with them.  I find that the less step by step we give them, the more motivated they get, creating work that far exceeds any expectation we could have placed on them.  And as teachers learning along with students, we model what real life is, a constant process of learning, trial and error.

Siemens writes that “technology is altering (rewiring) our brains.”  The following link talks about this new iGeneration and states that these kids “don’t remember a time without the constant connectivity to the world that these technologies bring.”

Interestingly, when googling the topic of rewired or tech-savvy kids, there were more links reporting on the damages of social media, the Internet and such.  Here is one example:  However, even in this article, he does address the fact that perhaps this re-wiring is a good thing, making us more adaptable as learners.

Whichever side of the debate you stand, one thing is certain.  Our children are more tech-savvy than most adults.  Therefore, we will be forever behind unless we embrace their knowledge and learn along with them.

Living Online

The idea of connectivism versus a content based Internet has redefined my view of the Internet.  After this week’s readings, I now more greatly appreciate its potential and the capacity for increased connections.  However, I have to say, this is also a bit intimidating.  The ideas presented in “Living and Learning with New Media” report that the “new media provide…a venue that renders intimacy simultaneously more public and more private” (17).  In the context of the article, this was seen as a positive as it allows for more casual experimentation among youth.  However, in the article, it also addresses the fact that as youth operate in a more public venue, it “makes the ‘lessons’ about social life (both the failures and successes) more consequential and persistent” (14).

Living within a more public context and operating in a “full-time intimate [online] community” (15) also creates a sense that there is a lack of privacy.  I am of the age whereby we were warned of the Internet, told to protect ourselves and be careful of what we post and how we present ourselves.  However, as social media becomes more pervasive, and people become more involved, more and more is revealed.  There is now a digital record of everything.  With regards to youth, how does this affect them as they experiment with growing up in an online environment?  With regards to myself, I will say, I am still slightly intimidated.  What if the tone doesn’t translate?  What if words are misconstrued?  I have to say, I have, of late, taken to answering many e-mails in person, as a quick interaction face-to-face can often clarify what might take many e-mails.

On the other hand, the idea of “hanging out” online is fascinating.  I agree that we certainly do not support students’ digital lives.  A simple “no cell phone rule” at school basically extinguishes their social life as they cannot connect with BBM, Facebook, Twitter, etc. during the school day.  In a sense, with such rules, we are making them go underground, and yet, one could pose the question, is it so bad to hang out and interact face to face?

This debate rages and I think this certainly reveals the generation gap.  People of my generation lament the fact that students live in this constantly connected world at the expense of developing person-to-person social skills.  However, in my own life, I am starting to see more and more value in this digital world, which in turn makes me understand how necessary it is for young people.

A simple example that highlights this is my recent discovery of Words with Friends.  Prior to having children, my husband and I loved playing Scrabble together.  Now, we are lucky to get the scrabble board out a handful of times each year.  If we tried to play while the children were awake, we’d likely lose half of our letters.  By the time they are in bed, we are simply too tired.  Yet, we have revived our Scrabble competition online, and we are having a great time and connecting again through this game, albeit digitally.  Some say they think it sad that two people sitting in the same room are engaged in their media devices instead of talking, and yet, how much talking really occurs across a real Scrabble board?  It’s a pretty quiet game.  So now, we have a constant game going, and we can play while doing all those real world things we have to as adults.  And we maintain a verbal dialogue about it, much the same as youth must as they connect in their online worlds.

As I said, it’s a pretty simple example, but if I can discover quality relationships online that enhance my real relationships and keep me connected to people more constantly, then this must also be what this report is addressing with regards to youth interaction.  The idea of “hanging out” online is not so different from when I was a teen and we “hung out” on the phone, especially once three-way calling came into being and there would be 6-7 of us on the line at once (my how far we’ve come).

The report concludes that adults see “these new practices as mystifying and, at times threatening to existing social norms and educational standards” (35), yet, are we not constantly evolving and changing.  Social norms twenty years ago were far different than fifty years ago.  We are in constant evolution, so we may as well embrace it.  And if schools become more similar to how youth operate, perhaps they will no longer need to live dual lives…perhaps, they will become more engaged with school again.