Friday, May 22, 2009

The speed of technology change in schools

I've had this post stewing in my brain since yesterday when I read this post by Gary Hartzell, via Doug Johnson's most excellent Blue Skunk Blog. It was a well-written post meant to gird the defenders of libraries against critics that say the onslaught of the internet makes libraries and books themselves a dying breed. My thoughts are below:

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly that books should never be replaced by pure internet reading. I do take some issue with the following, however: Because we want students to move from simple information access skills to knowledge development and application to understanding to wisdom, technology that fosters short attention spans is both dangerous and counterproductive. “Here is the important point,” Mann contends, “and there is no getting around it: If the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are going to be grasped, they require greater attention spans than do the lower levels of data and information.”

Surfing the web for info does not represent digital literacy. It is just the START of the new digital literacy. The new digital literacy builds depth through communication, collaboration, and interaction. I refute the notion that the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are apparently only available to us in books and research papers. That is an outdated notion. In the 21st century, those higher levels of knowledge and understanding are more often going to come from shared input from collaborators across the globe. Ideas will be proposed, commented on, refined, and built up by groups of people working together towards a common understanding. This won't be happening at book clubs or libraries. It's going to be happening online. You might need a long attention span if you are sitting alone reading text, but that's not what is going to be happening with the next generation- they're going to be reading as a community, offering each other insight along the way.

My inclination is that this will allow an even greater amount of shared understanding and knowledge building. Short attention spans are not necessarily a bad thing- they can also be a sign of a brain that quickly grasps information. Don Tapscott has written that this generation of students are much better at processing this type of information than any previous generation. Instead of a short attention span, you are actually seeing an incredibly fast, advanced form of delineating what information is needed and what is not- what is a good source of information and what is not. This is a VERY good skill to have in the 21st century, with the glut of information that is available.

The last lines of Mr. Hartzell's post also stuck out in my head:

When you’re done, turn and ask your critics to cite specific evidence of electronic superiority, especially Internet superiority, in fostering student achievement. They won’t be able to do it.

This is absolutely true. But let's delve deeper into why this is true. Educators have literally been teaching with printed materials and oral language for thousands of years. The internet as we know it now has been around for 15. The real reason we don't have studies to show the effectiveness of using the internet with students is because we're all still figuring out how to do it! It's not the Internet's fault and it doesn't show a single thing about it's potential for student achievement- what it shows is that educators have still not figured out on a wide scale how to use it effectively to TEACH.

I'm reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat (finally) and just happened on this section this morning: "When computers were first introduced into offices, everyone expected a big boost in productivity. But that did not happen right away, and it sparked both disappointment and a little confusion. The noted economist Robert Solow quipped that computers are everywhere- except 'in the productivity statistics.'" (p. 206)

Friedman goes on to tell the same story with electricity- how it was expected to change everything overnight but couldn't because entire institutions, factories, management styles, workers, had to redesign themselves and their mindsets in order for the full impact to be felt. It is the same with the internet and technology in schools- and could be even more pronounced. In short, the reason we don't have statistics to support using the Internet and technology in schools is because it has only been around for 15 years and school systems/educators have still not redesigned themselves on a wide scale to make it WORK for students. Basically- the vast majority of schools are still doing it all wrong.

But just wait- schools are starting to change. Glacially, sure, but they're changing. Once the world of education at large has figured out how to use technology as a transformative learning tool, you'll have your statistics. I can't wait. :)

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