Educators: Keep Up or Risk Losing Learners

| February 9, 2011 | 4 Comments
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Flickr:Orange42

Stephen Collins is not an educator. He’s an Australian communications and technology consultant. But in this article on Acid Labs, he’s pinpointed something essential: that the public education system can’t progress without harnessing the vast powers of the Internet. Here’s an excerpt from the article.


Nodes: The hyperconnected nervous system and digital literacy

As edu­ca­tors, the teach­ing of good dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship is arguably one of the most impor­tant skills you can pass to those in your charge. You have a hand, as big or big­ger often, in the devel­op­ment of those you teach than do their par­ents. Not only that, their par­ents are often lack­ing in the skills needed to teach dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship. You are in a posi­tion both envi­able and unen­vi­able; you get to be the first adults to teach the dig­i­tal natives how to be a tribe of nobles rather than savages.

Good dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship is a com­plex notion. It involves aspects of tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence, famil­iar­ity with changed cul­ture and emo­tional intel­li­gence all at once. Wrap­ping these together, and deal­ing with them well in the con­text of a rapidly chang­ing online envi­ron­ment is immensely com­plex. Yet we’re all exposed to this envi­ron­ment, and from an increas­ingly young age.

Can edu­ca­tion change to cope with the open, shared, col­lab­o­ra­tive future of the hyper­con­nected world, or will it try to insist on main­tain­ing its posi­tion of power and thus dis­en­gage from learn­ers who will go about seek­ing their own learning?

My belief, as some­one who is not an edu­ca­tor, but is pas­sion­ately inter­ested in both my own ongo­ing edu­ca­tion and that of my daugh­ter, is that hyper­con­nect­ed­ness has so fun­da­men­tally changed edu­ca­tion that the model we’ve oper­ated under to now is no longer rel­e­vant. We have lit­tle time left to change and it’s not going to come with the Edu­ca­tion Revolution.

As hard as it is to keep up with tech­no­log­i­cal changes, the emer­gence of new plat­forms and tools, and an under­stand­ing of the ben­e­fits and risks they may offer the net­worked teacher, stu­dent or par­ent, is a core skill for mod­ern educators.

Equally, an under­stand­ing of the cul­ture of the net­work is crit­i­cal. Who con­nects to who. Why? How? To what end? Where is the value? What is my role in this new world where the value accorded exper­tise is decay­ing as access to fac­tual mate­r­ial, and even rich inter­pre­ta­tion and con­text is becom­ing a triv­ial task.

It’s sim­ply not good enough to say “I don’t have the time” or “It’s too hard, I can’t keep up.” Oth­ers do, and are. And your stu­dents cer­tainly are. If you can’t be their guide through the tech­no­log­i­cal changes, you can no longer be the men­tor they need in the net­worked age of education.

The model for the classroom, from a child’s first day at child care right through to the very end of ter­tiary edu­ca­tion is fun­da­men­tally bro­ken. We still oper­ate accord­ing to rules estab­lished in the 19th Cen­tury to train com­pli­ant work­ers for the fac­to­ries of England’s Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. I’ve also seen it described more than once, so I don’t lay claim to the idea, as the “air­plane model”; get in, sit down, face for­ward and be quiet.

In schools now, too often, tech­nol­ogy is a part-​​utilised add-​​on. More often, it’s crip­pled. And the net­work of con­nec­tions? Ill-​​used and piece­meal, even in the best schools.

When I talk with edu­ca­tors, many know what they should do, but have lacked the resources to do so. We now have those resources at hand, if we use them and share.

Edu­ca­tion must become the place where the net­work is best utilized. Where use of tools is taught well and goes deep. We now have the resources to cre­ate an age where the bound­aries of the class­room break down, where the exploratory learn­ing we so value in giv­ing small chil­dren is extended to the class for older children.

The hyper­con­nected world has cre­ated a new way of doing things that run strongly counter to the power rela­tion­ship inher­ent in edu­ca­tion before now. The con­flict that this sets up will be the decid­ing fac­tor. Can edu­ca­tion change to cope with the open, shared, col­lab­o­ra­tive future of the hyper­con­nected world, or will it try to insist on main­tain­ing its posi­tion of power and thus dis­en­gage from learn­ers who will go about seek­ing their own learning?

Pro­vid­ing peo­ple with whom you work — in the con­text of schools that’s teach­ers, other staff and stu­dents — with a less than full access expe­ri­ence to their hard­ware, soft­ware and online access infan­tilises them. Imag­in­ing that this crip­pled expe­ri­ence is some­how bet­ter and pro­vides you shiny, happy peo­ple who will com­pli­antly obey your edicts is fool­ish at best and deeply dam­ag­ing in many cases. Bet­ter to make sure your [peo­ple] are empow­ered to use social tools at work but also under­stand with crys­tal clar­ity what is and isn’t acceptable.”

We now have the resources to cre­ate an age where the bound­aries of the class­room break down, where the exploratory learn­ing we so value in giv­ing small chil­dren is extended to the class for older children.

Arguably, my daughter Hannah’s learn­ing expe­ri­ences in the class­room are becom­ing pro­gres­sively more irrel­e­vant as the learn­ing expe­ri­ences she under­takes beyond the class — delib­er­ately or coin­ci­den­tally — more directly pre­pare her and equip her with the skills she will need to suc­cess­fully tackle the 21st Cen­tury. She is more con­nected to, and more con­tex­tu­ally so, to what dig­i­tal ethno­g­ra­pher Kevin Kelly termed “The One” than any gen­er­a­tion before her.

In gen­er­a­tions to come, this will be seen as nat­ural. Right now, it presents an enor­mous chal­lenge to many edu­ca­tors and edu­ca­tion bureau­crats and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the polit­i­cal arena as they strug­gle to keep up. Cer­tainly the Prime Min­is­ter and Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter, as keenly inter­ested as they are in edu­ca­tion, by no means envi­sioned this as their Edu­ca­tion Revolution.

This approach is as acces­si­ble to teach­ers as it is to stu­dents. You can and ought to par­tic­i­pate in the rich­ness the net­work affords. Your own lit­er­acy in the tools, the cul­ture and the net­work itself is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of your abil­ity to men­tor stu­dents through the emo­tional, social and tech­ni­cal maze that they are nav­i­gat­ing. If you are left behind, you will, in short order, decrease in rel­e­vance to mod­ern learn­ing. That places you in an unen­vi­able posi­tion; unable to ade­quately men­tor your stu­dents and teach them not only the con­tent of their class but what it means in the greater con­text of their exis­tence as humans in the 21st Cen­tury, you may find your­self and your out­dated skills con­signed to the same scrapheap the Indus­trial Age class­room model finds itself.

To move to where I pro­pose teach­ing and learn­ing needs to go is no triv­ial task. It will require a sin­gu­lar will and no small amount of reimag­in­ing what the school expe­ri­ence looks like. But we’ve done this before, in so many parts of soci­ety, includ­ing schools when we trans­formed from the unstruc­tured learn­ing and one-​​to-​​one trans­fer of skills largely based around the fam­ily farm to indus­tri­alised soci­ety where we went off to work leav­ing our chil­dren in the charge of oth­ers to be taught. This will be no less a leap.

But now, we have the net­work not only to learn from, but to help us. Its value is man­i­fold. We can use the net­work and the shar­ing we do on it to trans­form edu­ca­tion as much as we use it as a tool of edu­ca­tion.

Imag­ine the possibilities.

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  • DanielChristian55

    Quote from Tina:
    As hard as it is to keep up with tech­no­log­i­cal changes, the emer­gence of new plat­forms and tools, and an under­stand­ing of the ben­e­fits and risks they may offer the net­worked teacher, stu­dent or par­ent, is a core skill for mod­ern educators.

    Daniel:
    Though I agree with this statement, I do wonder if the bar has risen too high for one person (teacher, professor, instructor) to do it all anymore. We need a team of specialists. See http://www.calvin.edu/~dsc8/vision-part5.html and http://www.calvin.edu/~dsc8/walmartofeducation.htm — specifically the graphics at: http://www.calvin.edu/~dsc8/images/Table-2008.jpg and http://www.calvin.edu/~dsc8/images/Table-2015.jpg.

    As what it takes to get through the gate gets tougher, we will need teams of specialists.
    See http://danielschristian.com/learning-ecosystems/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/is-it-getting-harder-to-get-through-the-gate1.jpg.

    Thanks for the great blog Tina!!!

    Daniel Christian
    http://danielschristian.com/learning-ecosystems/

  • http://twitter.com/trib Stephen Collins

    Daniel, as the author, I’ll take responsibility for the quote. :) And responsibility for addressing your concerns, as they are valid.

    Tina generously reposted this piece, which was originally a talk given at a large private school’s professional development day for their staff.

    You’re right, it’s generally not possible for a single individual to keep at the bleeding edge. I think schools at all levels ought to be ensuring educators and other staff are equipped with the right skills tio stay ahead of the game just enough. It’s then up to the individual to take some responsibility for their own learning.

    This begs the question as to whether skills in digital citizenship – both cultural and technical – ought to be a core part of the professional development of teachers. As a parent deeply emotionally invested in my child’s education and who too often sees teachers unable to keep up because of the sheer volume of stuff they need to be across just to do their jobs, I worry. I think digital citizenship education ought to become core to teacher training and ongoing development and be built deep into the roots of class curriculum.

    It’s a complex issue, and one I’m more than happy to discuss with you at length. Track me down.

    • DanielChristian55

      Thanks Stephen for your comments/posting here (and apologies on not catching who wrote this great article).

      I think that you are right about the student teacher training — skills in digital citizenship should be taught throughout all schools/depts of education. I can also empathize with — and agree with — your other statement that there is an information/expectations overload occurring with the job plates of the teachers.

      Personally, I think that we need to start a massive transformation into how education is created and delivered. There is disruption going on. Those within the education establishment can change/innovate or be changed by having to keep up with the folks who are doing the innovating.

      Thanks again Stephen,
      Daniel Christian
      http://danielschristian.com/learning-ecosystems/

  • http://twitter.com/knurani Karim Nurani

    The need to inter-connect to achieve specific outcomes or to solve real and probable challenges is especially important in the Educational environment. Given the growing volume of relevant Localized Open Educational Resources globally, the continuation of hyper connectedness could lead to stronger global awareness.