Sunday, October 27, 2013

Digital Kids and "Real" Communication

Our students have lived their lives within a digital world; to posit what an internet-less world would be like would be akin to us wondering what a world without a television would have been like. Yet, some schools still ban technological tools, such as a smartphone, while others may be embracing all things techie-smart to excess and in doing so, exacerbating a by-product of immersion in all things digital: the tendency to interact with things instead of communicating well with people face-to-face.

Two writings this week examine this issue: one which extolls the integration of technology as a way to create "a learning environment more conducive to producing the types of questions that create lifelong learners rather than savvy test-takers" and another that bemoans a technological world that has "sacrificed conversation for mere connection." Michael Wech states in "Anti-teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance" that students can no longer find significance in a traditional text-based education. His university students don't read many of their assignments because they do not find them relevant to their lives. Wech's answer is to revise his notion of teaching to focus on student inquiry and investigation. To facilitate this, he creates a classroom space he manages as opposed to "teaching" via extending information. His classroom becomes a lab in which students use their own technology in order to complete their task: to figure out how the world works. They become experts of one part of the world and "work together to help design a two-hour simulation of the last 500 years of history." The end result is an edited recorded version of their findings, their final "test."

More and more teachers embrace inquiry-based learning with students using technology as a natural aid in our globally connected society. However, Sherry Turkle worries that technology is creating a society that is "alone together". In "The Flight From Conversation" she states what most witness daily - that people are losing their ability and even desire to converse with people face-to-face as they superficially connect to others via technology. She calls this the "Goldilocks effect" because technology is used as a crutch to keep people "not too close, not too far, just right." She says people need to learn how to converse face-to-face because we, as a society, are confusing conversation with connection and that "we think constant connection will make us feel less lonely." To embrace real connections with people she suggests people create "device-free zones".

Young people need to have a balance with technologically-aided learning and face-to-face conversations of merit and value. One doesn't have to refute the other. Ramsey Musallem, a chemistry teacher, expands curiosity via technology and multimedia and agrees with Wech that teachers need to cultivate curiosity and inquiry as opposed to being mere disseminators of knowledge. In this short presentation he says great teaching comes from three "rules": Curiosity Comes first, Embrace the Mess of Trial and Error, and Practice Reflection:

Musallem says sparking curiosity in students trumps all. Jordan Shapiro agrees in "We Need More EdTech, but Less Technology in the Classroom".  He blends technology and conversation in his university classroom by emailing technologically-based lessons to his students so that they learn via technology away from each other, but while in the classroom, lessons are focused on conversing via Socratic Seminars, discussion and debate.

Finally, there is the camp that believes learning without technology is best. Surprisingly, this can be found with parents who make their living via technology. In fact, the chief technology officer of Ebay, along with many other leaders and employees of Silicon Valley industries, send their children to technology-free schools so that they will develop their curiosities and creativity the old fashioned way: through hands-on tasks combined with human interaction. This is documented in "A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute".  Interestingly, this private Waldorf school, which doesn't emphasize standardized testing, is educating tomorrow's creative thinkers as part of the affluent professional school caste related in Patrick J. Finn's Literacy with an Attitude. 

All these models have one thing in common: each emphasizes inquiry-based learning and the cultivation of curiosity with students. Technology, when used well, should be an aid in students' development of learning to ask questions and in finding potential answers. With that end in mind, teachers can do what we do best - create dynamic learning environments that encourages curiosity and meaningful conversations and debate made with each other, face-to-face.





1 comment:

  1. Polly, this is a wonderful synopsis and fusion of the two articles. I find it so interesting that there are schools that push back against technology intentionally, I had no idea this existed. I think we do waste a lot of time trying to connect things to technology when we could have just done things the "old fashioned way." I think that as the years continue and technology expands further, parents and teachers really need to be vigilante, thoughtful and intentional when it comes to helping children learn how to balance the amount of time kids spend immersed in gadgets throughout the day.