Railing against ‘digital natives’ (again)

All plugged in…

On a discussion forum for my M.Ed, another teacher just asked me why I hate the term ‘digital natives’. Here is my response:

Where to begin?

  1. It was coined by Prensky at the turn of the century (2001)! While an interesting and helpful construct 13 years ago, it is now outdated. Why?
  2. It is binary. Really? Just ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’? Those are my only options?
  3. I won’t go into the baggage behind the terms…
  4. It’s usually used in the same breath (or at least the same paragraph) as “21st century learning” (or, as we call it in the 21st century, um, learning) and/or the phrase “we’re preparing them for their future not our past.” I generally like the sentiment surrounding that second one but it has become part of the set of cliches thrown willy-nilly into conversation to show that the speaker is down with the #edtech movement.
  5. Did I mention it’s binary? Where’s the nuance? Where are the shades of grey? Yes, students in our schools have never lived a day in their lives without Google and all the joys that it brings. But many/most of those students have never actually been taught how to find the joy that Google brings.
  6. Mostly, I think the term “digital natives” is used as a cop-out by some teachers to not do anything. The number of times I’ve worked with teachers – both as a math teacher and as a tech coach – who just magically think students are able to make a good movie about the rise and fall of Mesopotamia because they are in middle school, or with teachers who complain about students using Wikipedia for research but who don’t take the time to actually teach students who to search effectively (or to do academic research), because they are “digital natives” astounds me.

“Kids these days” are really good at staying connected with each other through facebook, or reblogging content through tumblr, or watching cat videos on youtube, or finding the latest meme on 9gag. That doesn’t mean they understand how to repurpose those skills in an academic setting or how to use those skills ethically and responsibly. That is our job as teachers and parents. Yet, the term “digital native” is now used with flippancy (not by all, but by a lot in my experience) to absolve teachers and parents of their responsibilities to teach or parent.

Uncle Ben (or Voltaire, if you prefer) once said “With great power comes great responsibility.

Punya Mishra once said, “Go to Google for information; come to me for wisdom.

I think the term “digital natives” now undermines both of these thoughts…

What do you think? Too harsh?

Image Credit: Photo by me, licensed under Creative Commons

The difference between Education, school, and learning

For my Masters course on Leveraging Technology, I had to write a paper that addressed the following prompt. I thought, instead of just sharing it with my professor, I’d also share it with you. It’s based on a blog post that has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder since after Learning 2.010! I’m still not entirely happy with it, but it’s a start. At least it’s out of my ‘drafts’ folder now…

As an expert on the use of technology in education, you have been called upon by a United Nations committee to ‘testify’ on the impact and efficacy of technology in education. Prior to the session, you are provided with the four questions the panel will ask so you can adequately prepare your answers. Please do so.

A. Based on your experience and passion, what is your personal vision of education?

B. Please explain how technology currently informs that vision.

C. What emerging technology trends will impact your vision of education in the next three years?

D. If you were appointed as the global technology czar, what would be your first order of business? How would you know if you were successful?

I believe that Education, school and learning are three disparate concepts that are often conflated. As has been noted by speakers such as Ken Robinson, the industrial age of Education has used schools as the factories by which the “learning” has been the output. All learning took place in schools and all schools existed within the sphere of Education. If we were to diagram it, it might have looked something like this:

With the rise in opportunities afforded through the continued integration of technology, I believe that that diagram is shifting. There still exists overlapping areas between the three concepts, but I think it is a mistake to assume school implies learning, or that learning implies organized Education. In fact, I believe that the state of Education, school and learning currently looks more like this:

There are a myriad of opportunities for learning to take place outside of the formal institution of Education and outside of the formal setting of schools. This has always been the case, but increased access to technology has made these opportunities more abundant and more obvious. In fact, as we continue along this path, I believe that we will see an increased shift towards the center, where the overlapping areas of these three concepts increases:

Technology has had two major effects on knowledge. First, it has significantly decreased the half-life of facts. According to Samuel Arbessman, “we must admit to ourselves that a large fraction of what we learn is going to be obsolete within a few years” and that “we need to constantly reeducate ourselves, avoid memorization, and start looking up facts to make sure that we have the most updated knowledge.”

Secondly, technology has made the effective value of knowledge zero. It used to be that people would pay huge sums of money to attend prestigious universities so that they could learn from the professors there. Now, top-tier universities like MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford are making their content available for free online through services like iTunes U or through MOOC providers like Udacity.

Individuals have access to all of that ever-changing content because of advances in technology. The increasing hyper-connectedness of our world means that we have quicker access to more information than ever before and there are no signs that these trends will not slow down.

Over the next three years, I think the continued refinement of Massively Open Onlie Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) will have a huge impact on learning, schools and Education. While there are currently many who believe that this free content will not live up to its hype, I believe that these disruptive innovations will continue to be refined and that they will reach a ‘tipping point’ within Education.

In conjunction with this, I believe that the Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges Initiative will play a huge part in ‘legitimizing’ the learning that is taking place outside of the traditional institutions of Education and brick-and-mortar schools. These badges will be used by experts to endorse others for the skills that they possess and the learning that they have shown. Open Badges will be recognized by schools, institutions and even employers to meet requirements for entry, graduation or hiring.

As Global Technology Czar, there are two areas of immediate focus for all students and teachers. The first is the need for an extensive information literacy and search curriculum to be developed and implemented. In this age, it is important for learners of all ages to be able to find appropriate information and to critically evaluate the its veracity, context and applicability. As Clay Shirkey famously remarked, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” As more and more information becomes accessible every day, it is important that we teach how to sift through it all in order to find what they need.

Some rights reserved by Clint Hamada

The second is develop and embed the concept of connectivism within our schools, as developed by George Siemens. According to Siemens, “Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing (emphasis added).” All learners should be shown how to develop their own personal learning network, de-emphasizing the role of the school and of the classroom teacher as the sole source of knowledge and empowering learners to seek outside experts and opinions – on a local and global scale – in order to satisfy their own passions for learning.

Success for either of these initiatives cannot be measured by test scores. They will not result in higher standardized test scores or result in a change in PISA rankings. I believe that success can only be measured through an extensive audit of school curricula and learner behavior. Both areas of focus will require an overhaul of ‘traditional’ school curricula to put further emphasis on critical thinking skills and less emphasis on content. In short, a school’s curriculum must become ‘Google-proof.’ This audit should also reveal a greater emphasis being put on creating and maintaining global connections, first facilitated by the school and then maintained by the learner as they mature. These connections can take many forms, including classroom connections, collaborative projects, and peer review and assessment. It will require the learners to leverage technologies such as social media and self-publishing in an authentic and open manner and will, in turn, require schools to actively teach and promote digital citizenship as a core value of the learning environment.


Open Your Door!

As a classroom teacher, I hated to be observed. Heck, I hated to teach in a room where another teacher was working, even if they weren’t even paying attention to me? I never could figure out why I felt that way…

Now that I have begun to live my life online — open and transparent, as much as possible — I realize how debilitating that prior mindset was to my teaching. Of course I learn a lot fromthe other great souls who are teaching and living out in the open. But my openness is forcing me to be more introspective and reflective: Why am I doing what I’m doing, and what can I do to make it better? Opening the door to my online persona has caused me to be more introspective and reflective. It has helped me to grow professionally and personally, even if nobody ever reads a word that I write.

I firmly believe that the average teacher’s, well, openness to openness is directly proportional to that of the school’s in which she works. It is a learned behavior that is nurtured by the institution. If a school were to implement a healthy open-door and/or walkthrough policy — with the goal of observation and not appraisal — it would be an easy step for those teachers to begin to share their professional practice to a wider audience.

So why are schools in general and teachers in particular so reticent to openning their doors, either to their parents or their colleagues or to the world? What are they afraid that others will see? Maybe more accurately, what are they afraid they themselves will see?

Image: ‘open door‘ licensed under CC BY NC

Beware the Expert, cont.

From the Science of Willpower by Kelly McGonigal:

Nevertheless, research has consistently shown that most people are not fans of reality when it comes to estimating their own abilities. We tend to overestimate our skills. And, in a cruel twist, the less ability you actually have, the more you think you do.

This common cognitive bias, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, was first formally reported in 1999 by psychologists at Cornell University. These researchers found that most people overestimate their abilities in many domains, including humor, grammar, and logic. The effect is most pronounced in people who have the least skill; for example, those with a test score in the12th percentile would, on average, estimate themselves to be in the 62nd percentile.

In contrast, people who actually are above average are less likely to rate themselves so highly. Because they know more, they doubt themselves more. They know what it means to be really great — unlike those whose skills are so poor, they can’t recognize competence in others or their own lack of ability. The Cornell psychologists Dunning and Kuger concluded, “Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

This seems to be adding some scientific research to a Beginner’s Mind.

Transforming Education

There are simply too many technological innovations and social and political expectations for the model to stay the same. In the latter case, we increasingly live in a 24×7 world. I get annoyed when I can’t talk to customer service about a banking problem at whatever time I encounter it, late in the evening, for example. The forces are toward new models, new efficiencies, new responsiveness, and new transparency. Information when I want it, in a form that I want. – Pam Heath, Jensen Heath communications consulting, from The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future (emphasis added)

A while back in September or October, when we were preparing for the spectre of H1N1 and the inevitable school closure (which never happened), I was speaking to a colleague in the math department about the idea of turning the school day on its head: what if the students used their “homework time” to receive instruction and content – through such media as podcasts, screencasts, video lectures – and used their “school time” to work on practice problems (if needed) and investigations.

This was echoed by Dr. Scott McLeod at ASB Unplugged when he talked about the ‘fungibility of teachers’ – what are the aspects of teaching that cannot be replaced or outsourced? Lecturing is definitely fungible. As charismatic and knowledgeable as I am <sarcasm!>, there is definitely somebody else out there who can say what I know a whole lot better than me. The ability to create learning experiences for our students is not fungible. Nor is the ability to effectively facilitate a discussion in order to challenge every student in the classroom.

Will Education ever give students the information that they want when they want it in a form that they want? I know that there are some individuals who are succeeding in doing this already. But will it ever amount to a systemic shift? Will we ever be able to suppress our collective memories of what Education should be and think about what Education could be?

Is Dan Brown on the right track?

The Price of Expertise

This is really more than I was expecting to say on the subject of Beginner’s Mind, but I came across an article from the Guardian – thanks to Andrew Sullivan – on the negative impact of doing good deeds.

In ethical terms, the best never think that they are the best, and those that believe themselves to be on the side of the angels are often the worst devils.

Just change the word “ethical” to “teaching”.

Beginner’s Mind

So I’m a bit behind on my writing. What can I say? It’s been a crazy few weeks

Darren Kuropatwa thinks it’s difficult to be a change agent if you are an expert.

Dan Meyer (sorta) disagrees:

Darren thinks his situation requires more novices when instead it requires better experts. Hungry experts. Experts who empathize with the novice, who constantly re-evaluate their own assumptions from the perspective of a novice, who get outside their own heads as much as possible and as often as possible.

Anytime you think of yourself as an expert – hungry, empathetic or otherwise – you have already put yourself at a disadvantage. The Zen master Shunryū Suzuki said:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (p 1)

The most effective teachers are the ones who approach every unit, every day, every lesson like it was the first time. They do not ignore their wealth of accumulated knowledge and experience; nor do they let that knowledge or experience dictate their actions. Rather, they let their current situation – the one they are experiencing for the first time, the one in which they are the beginner – determine the best course of action.

I know from my own experience that my colleagues who have been the most effective and inspirational were the ones who were never fully satisfied with their work. They never seemed to use the same lesson plan twice because there was always something that could be improved. They never saw themselves as the expert and thus able to rest on their laurels; they saw themselves as beginners with many possibilities to improve.

What If We Replace ‘Business’ with ‘Education’?

Daniel Pink on incentives and performance:

Some highlights:

As long as the task required only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.

But once the tasked called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.

To provide intrinsic motivation, you need to provide:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what [education] does. Those 20th century rewards, those motivators that we think are a natural part of [education], do work but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

Moving Up a Weight Class – From Coaching Light to Coaching Heavy

I first heard the terms ‘Coaching Light’ and ‘Coaching Heavy’ when I was reading a post on Difficult Conversations over at Always Learning. If you haven’t heard the terms before, they come from the book Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives by Jim McKnight in a section written by Joellen Killion. She

assert[s] that there are two kinds of coaching – coaching light and coaching heavy. The difference essentially is the coaches’ perspective, beliefs, role decisions, and goals, rather than what coaches do… Coaching light occurs when coaches want to build and maintain relationships more than they want to improve teaching and learning. From this perspective, coaches act to increase their perceived value to teachers by providing resources and avoiding challenging conversations. (p. 22)

Coaching heavy, on the other hand, includes high-stakes interactions between coaches and teachers, such as curriculum analysis, data analysis, instruction, assessment, and personal and professional beliefs and how they influence practice… Coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support and to turn their attention to those high-leverage services that have the greatest potential for teaching and learning. Coaching heavy requires coaches to work with all teachers in a school, not just those who volunteer for coaching services. Coaching heavy requires coaches to seek and use data about their work and regularly analyze their decisions about time allocation, services and impact. (p. 23 -24) (emphasis added)

I have started looking further into this idea of Coaching Heavy. I read the first chapter of the book on Google Books. I found another article by Joellen Killion on the same topic. I found another instructional coach who is making this same transition. After reading the distinctions between the two, I knew that Coaching Heavy is where I wanted to be.

But now comes the hard part. How do I make that transition? How do I engender the required sense of collaboration and preparation required not only by me but by the rest of the staff? How do I impose myself and my new-found interest in Coaching Heavy on those around me? How do I make Technology Integration a priority for others as well as myself?

The first thing I need is a plan of action that takes into account the questions above as well as the culture of my school. When I get to that stage, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions or comments please feel free to let me know.

(Note: I just read that the Laptop Institute is soliciting calls for proposals for their 2010 Institute. Is this something that could work as a workshop?)

Image: Watching the Detecto by massdistraction licensed under CC BY NC ND

Wolfram Alpha: Concept is King!

Friedman hints at it. Pink implies it (or he might flat out say it; I haven’t finished reading the book!). And now Wolfram|Alpha confirms it: Content is Dead, Concept is King!

There is no point in teaching my students how to become a CPA. There will always be somebody cheaper (and probably better at it) to do that work somewhere else in the world (Friedman). It will be your ability to think creatively that will allow you to flourish in this situation (Pink).

With the launch of W|A, my students now have a resource that will graph lines and find intercepts for them (among other things). My focus is no longer on the computational content; it now has to be on the creative concept. What does the graph mean?  Why is it relevant? It’s no longer enough to ask the students graph something just because: we now need a reason to want to interpret that graph. It needs context and connections, not abstraction and solitude.

I can understand Maria’s point when she says:

It does have the potential to seriously wreak havoc on the way we teach math today if students can simply copy all their work from an A.I. website.  Whether you think that it’s time that somebody forced a change, or whether you think it’s just hype and not really a threat, I think we should all be aware that after today, it exists.

But I think MsMichetti has right idea:

All those graphs, tables, new vocabulary, and more are useless without using Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to sort them out and make sense of them. Why aren’t we teaching more visual literacy and data interpretation — in every subject area?

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating that students no longer need to learn how to graph functions or do symbolic algebraic manipulation. Of course these types of skills are important, but they should no longer be the main focus of our curriculum. If technology is like air (invisible, abundant and noticeable only when missing a la Chris Lehmann), then why wouldn’t I assume that at some point in the very near future – if not already – all of my students will have ubiquitous access to W|A and its inevitable improvements? What happens when W|A comes out with the killer mobile app that puts this knowledge in everybody’s hands at any time? Why would I fight/resist this change?

The jury is still out on the idea that Google has made us stupid. I’m adding more fuel to the similar W|A debate. But this much is clear: we can never put these genies back in their bottles. For better or for worse, we’re going to have to un-learn our old-school emphases on computation and recall and re-learnhow to harness their powers to focus on interpretation, analysis and synthesis of information.

Long live the King!

image: if i were king by Jason Nicholls
image: Genie’s Lamp by Davic