Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Technology and Education is in the air

Yesterday, I got a request from our school district to fill out a survey about "21st Century Learning." I did. They asked a lot of the right questions. Although they did ask about whether all children should have laptops, most of their questions were about whether web 2.0 tools should be used and how and what kinds of things would the school need to do to make that happen. One of the things I said was that it would be nice if they could make it easier for parents to participate in their kids learning process through the use of these tools. Right now the extent of my technological participation is a Course Management system that just lets me see grades after the fact and email. Yes, some of the teachers post their assignments on the web, but that's not participatory. What I suggested was, something along the lines of what Will Richardson has done in the past, having parents reading the same books and commenting on student blogs about those books or learning about science together. If I knew what my kid was doing in his classes, then I might be able to participate in a more meaningful way.


I've also been reading the Net Gen Nonsense blog, which I highly recommend to advocates of technology in education. I've been an advocate of technology in education, especially socially-oriented and user-creation-based applications, not for the sake of developing technology skills, but because these tools enable better and deeper learning, if used appropriately. And yes, our students are using some of these tools, but as I've said time and time again, they need help using them for learning, especially the kind of in-depth learning required in college and that will hopefully continue throughout life. A key quote from a recent study cited by Mark on his blog:
"Students make limited, recreational use of social technologies such as media sharing tools and social networking sites...the findings point to a low level of use of and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies."
I'm reading Don Tapscott's Grown Up Digital, which spouts much of the ideas this study is trying to knock down--that "kids these days" are living and breathing web 2.0 and so we need to change our educational and work systems as a result. Actually, what I'm seeing is that there are a handful of students who are using these tools creatively and intelligently and many of them are pushing for changes in work and school, but it's a very few. What keeps me up at night are actually the vast majority of students who either don't have access to these tools or worse, who do and either don't use them or use them irresponsibly. I think we need to change not because students are demanding the change (because quite frankly, they aren't), but because we need to have studets who are creative, collaborative thinkers.


I've also been finalizing parts of my Gender and Technology course for the spring, and I've found myself thinking over and over again--what can I do here to drive this point home or to have students experience this more directly rather than just reading about it or hearing me talk about it. So, I'm including some gameplay, some experiences in Second Life, lots of blogging, building a network graph, and creating mashups and multimedia assignments. The hard part about including this stuff is that everyone is going to be at different comfort levels with the technology. And I hate it when technology gets in the way of the experience. It makes me wish we had a lab section. And I think that's the rub. I'm comfortable with all this stuff and will find a way to use it effectively and help the students get past the technical hurdles so they can see the point. But most people a) aren't comfortable and b) don't have the time and/or patience to deal with the hurdles. It makes me wonder who is going to be left behind.