Thursday, July 30, 2009

Snarky Education

I really like Mark Bullen's Net Gen Skeptic blog, because I, too, maintain a healthy skepticism about they hype surrounding the so-called Net Generation.  I don't think they're all disengaged, tech-savvy people.  When I teach and use something as simple as a blog, I have to teach about 80% of the class how to use it.  And often, I have to teach 100% of the class how to use it effectively.  Most of the students I've run into who have a blog use it as a diary or as a way to communicate only with friends.  So learning to blog in public is a difficult thing to do.  If you read the likes of Don Tapscott in Grown Up Digital, these students started a blog at birth and by the time they reach college, have gained a huge audience and are earning their college tuition through selling ad space.

Bullen's latest post about the Snark effect, an effect where policy or strategy is based on assertions rather than on a full evaluation of the situation, i.e. empirical research.  Bullen asserts that the call for technology in education is all snark and no bite:
The Snark Syndrome is clearly at play in the discussions around the Net
Generation and education. I have lost track of the number of times I
have heard educators repeat the stereotypes about the Net Generation:
short attention span, expert mutitaskers, technologically savvy etc
etc. Countless Michael Wesch-like You Tube videos are circulating
urging us to wake up and change our ways or else risk losing an entire
generation of learners who we are failing to engage. The answer, we are
told, is more digital technology
I think many people who encourage the effective use of technology in teaching and learning are not just saying it because we need to engage a crew of digital natives who would rather be Facebooking than sitting in class.  Instead, we see a future that's digital, where we know our students need to understand and be critical of the information that is flowing past them every day at a very rapid pace.  They will be expected to use many of the Web 2.0 technologies in their jobs and will need to be able to learn how to use new ones and determine whether they are effective tools or not.  And many of us do look at the research.  Many of us are looking at research that is 40 years old and that still holds, that says that active learning is better, and we see that technology is one of many ways to achieve best practices in learning that are supported by decades of research.  My own dissertation investigated through empirical study whether blogs were an effective tool for teaching writing.  They are.

If people are blindly jumping into using technology for technology's sake, then Bullen has a point.  As a consultant (one of the people he says educators are blindly following, though I do know a lot about education), I would never suggest that educators simply follow my advice without thinking about whether it would work for them.  It's likely they'll want to make small adjustments based on their own needs and experience.  I merely make suggestions, show things that have worked for me or for others, and talk about the research that backs up those suggestions.  In fact, the whole point for me of using technology in the classroom is so that we don't create a generation of blind followers, that we have students who will be able to tackle the huge problems they will face: global warming, dwindling fossil fuels, global strife.  Blind following in any of those cases is a bad idea, and I believe that technology can be part (not all) of the solution to helping them become better informed and make better decisions.

Cross-posted at Emerging Technologies Consulting.