Educators: Keep Up or Risk Losing Learners
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.
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.”
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.