"Technology is Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say," in yet another New York Times piece that wants to blame this generation for how it learns and blame technology as the culprit in somehow "damaging" kids' learning. Well, when hasn't it been the case that the way you learn the world, from birth on, changes the way you learn in school (and everywhere else)? That, dear educators, is what learning is. Plain and simple. It's not our job to teach students in 2012 how to spin and weave, it's not our job in the U.S. to teach our students how to write kanji, it's not our job in 2012 to teach them how to use calculators or an abacus: it is our job in 2012 to teach students now for the challenges of their lives--in a historical time, in a historical place. It is our job to help them learn how to be successful adults in their future; it is not our job to preserve for them some nostalgic vision of the future that is clearly past.
If you want to read the New York Times article, here it is: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/education/technology-is-changing-how-students-learn-teachers-say.html?smid=fb-share The article does admit, beneath the fold, that yes, teachers should be rethinking some of their methods for the new ways kids learn today. But even that is grudging, relunctant, and a bit stingy in its appreciation of how vastly learning has been changed by kids' early introduction to new forms of interactive, community-based technologies that allow for skill development as part of peer-created, connected, challenging fun.
A very different article in yesterday's news provides the very best corrective to this belated New York Times report on "what's the matter with kids today." The MIT Media Lab people have created a next-generation experiment on the model of its ongoing One Laptop Per Child attempt to place inexpensive technology in the hands of the 100 million first-grade age kids around the world who have no access to schooling of any kind. They dropped opensource Motorola Xoom tablets in two very remote Ethiopian villages where there was no schooling of any kind, no literacy in any language, no existing mobile or internet-connected technology, and no knowledge of English. The Androids were programmed entirely in English. They were dropped into the villages in sealed cardboad boxes without instructions of any kind and given to four to seven year old kids.
Got that? Sound like a bad movie plot? . . . Keep reading.
Without any intervention from the Media Lab people or from adults or from teachers or from anyone who knew either English or how to work a tablet computer, the kids, on their earned, learned like crazy from these devices. The results are so stunning that I will quote the article:
"The devices involved are Motorola Xoom tablets—used together with a solar charging system, which OLPC workers had taught adults in the village to use. Once a week, an OLPC worker visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.
After several months, the kids in both villages were still heavily engaged in using and recharging the machines, and had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”. . . .Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”
Kids without schooling, without literacy, HACKED the Androids to turn the camera back on . . . without instruction. That is a breathtaking example of how learning can happen with new technology if we are open to new ways of peer, community-based, shared learning.
We now have devices that are so user-friendly in their interfaces, so enjoyable to use, so inspiring to learning, that these Ethiopian kids were using them not only to hack a system but even to teach themselves the language in which so much of the learning was articulated, even though they did not even have literacy skills in their own language. The point isn't to learn English. It is problem solving. It is learning.
What the teachers in the NY Times piece need to take from this Ethiopian experiment--what all of us as educators on every level have to take from this experiment--is that, if we do not think learning is something so dreadfully dull that it has to be regulated, assessed, made compulsory, rule bound, divided into disciplines, and in all other ways "measured out in coffee spoons" (as T. S. Eliot would say), then the potential of kids and all of us to learn is enormous. I have had to unlearn a lot of my own didactic forms of teaching over the years and have had to learn how to practice what I call "structuring possibilities for openness." It means biting my tongue, not solving the problem or coming up with the answers, but providing the opportunities in which students can help one another to learn and having faith that, if I stay back, they will in fact learn because, as humans, learning is what we do, it's how we thrive.
Here's the central implication for pedagogy: teaching to enormity is very, very different from teaching to scarcity.
To date, our model of education puts the teacher up front, with a vast quantity of knowledge to be forced into the empty brain of the student. That's hyperbolic, of course, but read any teacher-training manual, any assessment justification, or the legislation setting out No Child Left Behind, our 2002 national law, and you see this implication of lack, scarcity, deficiency, unproductivity, lack of motivation, and other forms of negativity.
Think again. We know from everything from Yelp! to Wikipedia to online medical, dating, home repair, and other contributing social network sites, from Facebook to Twitter, that we humans enjoy sharing our knowledge with one another. We humans love to learn.
That's the message of those Ethiopian kids hacking their Androids. That's the message that we need to think about in transforming schools, teaching, and teacher education--as well as all our modes of assessment--for the world we're living in today. And I mean that from kindergarten to professional school. To wrap our heads about how revolutionary that insight is, we need a major paradigm shift, from scarcity to abundance, from teacher as the regulator and enforcer to teacher as the inspirer and encourager.
The problem and the potential for learning, everywhere, including in the classroom, are boundless. That's the challenge.
Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, a 9500+ network committed to new modes of collaboration, research, learning, and institutional change. Along with a steering committee of scholars across many fields, Davidson has been directing HASTAC's operations since 2006, when www.hastac.org moved to Duke University, where she also co-directs the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge. She is author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions. In October 2012, she and David Theo Goldberg, HASTAC's cofounders, were named Educator of the Year by the World Technology Network. NOTE: The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog, www.nowyouseeit.net . The paperback of Now You See It was published July 31, 2012 : http://tinyurl.com/bqquoaz