Monday, June 10, 2013

Ongoing Digital Citizenry Training

Responses to comments on my recent online talk, in preparation for my keynote in Caracas in a couple weeks. Commenter voices are in italics. The original forum and comments are all in Spanish; I'm working through an interpreter.




·        Perhaps the greatest challenge lies in introducing technology in classrooms through an innovative methodology which suits the times in which we live. This will make subsequent ongoing training easier throughout the learner’s life.

This is a challenge because it is not a single objective, but one which changes over time. Each year we see new technology and new methodology. People change, society changes. So it’s important not only to help people adapt to the technology and methodology of the day, but to develop and adapt new methodologies into the future.

Historically, the classroom has been among the slowest segment of society to make these changes. As one person reported in a study a few years ago, “I turn off my technology when I go to school.” Outside school, we are connected and communicating and creating. But this seems still to be the exception inside the classroom.

Consequently, I am led increasingly over time to challenge whether we should be depending on the classroom for future learning at all. It is a very difficult environment in which to work, where teachers work alone, separate from each other and society, and more recently, with less and less control over their working conditions. I would rather see teachers work within information and communications networks, rather than debate how to incorporate these networks into an unfriendly and outdated classroom environment.

·        ICTs have opened up a wide range of training possibilities which are nonetheless not entirely new. For some time now there has been talk of the importance of personalised learning and the need for it to take the learner's interests and learning conditions into account. Today, technology allows us to apply constructive approaches which learning centres have been trying to introduce in training institutions for decades.

I would be the first to agree that many of the approaches now being adopted by technology-enhanced learning were developed and tried in learning centres in the years before technology. I myself remember working at development education centres in Calgary and in Northern Alberta employing adaptive and constructive pedagogy.

Many of these approaches, though, were difficult and expensive to adapt on a widespread basis. What technology enables is what Toffler originally called ‘mass customization’. For example, while connecting people with similar interests and aptitudes has always been a value, prior to the use of technology it was only possible in urban centres. But today people who are distributed geography can now associate with communities of interest.

·        ICTs are an inclusive tool, especially for those people who have obstacles that hinder their access to information or who have limited access to learning in one way or another, as ICTs define multiple ways to access information through multimedia, programmes and applications.

I agree that ICTs have this potential. But I caution that this does not happen automatically, and that there are risks associated with it.

For example, prior to the use of ICTs, we would buy products, and own them. This we could buy a book or a record album and read it or listen to it and share it with our friends and even resell it. But digital content is typically licensed, not sold, which means that one copy can only be used by one person, which may actually increase costs and barriers, unless addressed in some way through ‘fair use’ legislation or through licenses that permit sharing.

·        Currently, learning takes place in the community and as a result of an interaction with all its social elements and agents. Thanks to technological advances there is now an endless amount of knowledge which can be put to the service of the community. More is probably learnt from those elements from which we believe we learn least – knowledge is certainly not located in any specific special place. It can be found whenever someone wants to find it and in any place.  Do you agree?

Yes, I agree. One of the slogans I have used for many years to describe the use of ICTs is this: “People should learn about forestry in a forest, about law in the courtroom, about cuisine in the kitchen.” I still believe this. One of the advantages of ICTs that we Will eventually see, I think, is that we depend less and less on content and textbooks, and more and more on real experiences in the wider community.

·        If we want to learn, we have to seek out sources ourselves. We firstly need to do this whilst in the school system, as we have more interest in learning. The truth is, however, that we learn on a daily basis. We learn from each other, through our own experiences, from trial and error, from new technologies, from books, magazines, and from the few educational programmes we can find on the television. We learn from everything and everybody.

This is quite true. One of the great challenges for the school system, though, is to not destroy this interest in Learning. There is an old ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ cartoon where Calvin is all eager to attend his first day of school, ready to learn all about the world, and where he returns home, dejected, hating school and hating everything to do with Learning. This is sadly far too common the result of school. We do as humans have a natural desire and ability to learn, but it can be beaten down and defeated by the education system.

We read a lot in educational theory about motivation. But motivation is only necessary when we are trying to persuade people to do things they do not want to do. The fact that we need to motivate students is already a sign that we are failing. We as educators should be following students, helping them pursue their own interests in their own way, providing the support and encouragement and expertise they need, but helping them meet their own ambitions and objectives, not burdening them with ours.




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