Wednesday, January 02, 2008

How Would YOU Respond to This?

I'm facilitating an online class regarding "21st Century Teaching and Learning - The Need For Change" One of the reading assignments was to read this article by Marc Prensky, and comment: http://www.learningaccount.net/Course_Files/T21C001_045.htm

Below is the comment from one of the teachers. I've received his permission to post this here. As you can see, it's a very thoughful response to the article. I'm wondering how YOU would respond to him. Your THOUGHTFUL comments are welcomed and appreciated. If you'd prefer to send your response to me outside of the blog, you can find me at jgates513 on gmail.

---
Actually, this article seemed to contain everything wrong with educational "research" and "thought". As usual, some people working on their doctorates in education (who probably have about 1 years' teaching experience, if that) take a simple concept we all could agree on like, "we should use multimedia tools in our teaching to connect with students when necessary" and have turned it into a lot of rubbish about how students think differently and can only learn in disjointed, multitasking sorts of ways, which is patent nonsense.What all does this article get wrong? let me enumerate:

1. "The most prevalent change in how we use the Internet in the 21st Century is not as much in the ability to publish information as it is the ability to share and connect with others from around the globe." - Perhaps true as to how people use the internet in their day to day lives, but not true for teaching. The problem with constructing a "student-centered" curriculum where the students spend their time "learning" by connecting with their peers all over the world through blogs and whatnot is that this only works if the student knows the material already. Unless Plato was right and we are born knowing everything and simply need to remember it, then this is clearly not true. The whole point of a teacher is that the teacher knows more about the topic than you do, and you need them to impart their knowledge to you before you can really do anything with it. Certainly, using online tools like blogs to potentially allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic AFTER they have learned it initially is a fine idea. The expanding/refining stage is where authentic assignments should be used, whether they are electronic in nature or not. But before that point, when all is said and done and all the bells and whistles are examined, nothing beats a well-constructed, focused lecture (with an essential question, mind you) and nothing ever will, I dare say.

2. "According to Diana and James Oblinger (2005), today's students learn differently than previous generations and as a result they feel disconnected from schools that were designed for another time." Balderdash! As if students loved school in the past! That would of course explain why my father, who went on to eventually graduate from college summa cum laude, dropped out of high school in 1959 and joined the army - he felt disconnected from the lack of technology being used in school . . . oh wait, never mind! Seriously, I could find you writings from ancient Romans bemoaning how little they understand about their kids - so just because kids seem disconnected in school doesn't necessarily have to do with technology. More likely its the usual reasons - they see us, like their parents, as authority figures trying to "keep them down".

3. "Students are coming into our classrooms ready to learn in digital ways that are familiar to them and instead they are just sitting there with pencil and paper in hand not engaged and not learning." - Not necessarily true at all. The mistaken premise here is that if a student isn't on a cell phone or a lap top, they're not learning, and if they are playing with a techie doo-dad, they are. I've had some of my best results getting students to think critically by having them write an essay or by doing a role play, neither or which involves technology at all. I have been involved in classes that were very technology rich, but little learning was going on, because everyone was playing Tomb Raider or IMing each other. What matters is not necessarily how much technology you are using. Instead, what matters is if you are moving past pure memorization to higher level thinking. If you can use technology to do that, so be it, but if not, it doesn't make it any less authentic.

I should note that according to the activity that goes with this course, I am a pure "digital native". I am not a Luddite. I can certainly see the importance of relating to students and the way they think outside of school. I often look up their lingo on the Urban Dictionary. I can sing much of Kanye West's "Stronger", and I can even dance the "Soulja Boy" dance, much to the amusement of my students. However, I don't think that having my students make up a rap video about the French Revolution would be a good idea. It might be a very technology rich activity, but most students would rightly regard it as silly busy work, and little actual learning would take place.

This article confuses the "technologically rich" muddle most of us find ourselves it with higher level thinking, and the two are NOT the same.

10 comments:

Tim said...

While your teacher makes some valid points, most of his argument is based on the same "all or nothing" approach to education we have been stuck in for decades.

He/she says a student centered curriculum "only works if the student knows the material already." However, this assumes a linear progression of learning. In other words, we can only apply a particular bit of knowledge once we have "mastered" the material.

That's certainly valid for some topics but totally false for others. A "student centered curriculum" could very well be mixture of approaches.

He/she also brings up the old "kids have always disliked school". Very true. But kids have not always had the communications tools that allow them to share their ideas and attitudes with others all over the world. I would argue that many of our students are using these tools to learn more about the world outside of the classroom than they ever will inside. They are also picking up a great deal of misinformation.

He/she also says "What matters is not necessarily how much technology you are using. Instead, what matters is if you are moving past pure memorization to higher level thinking." I fully agree. However, unless your schools are far different than ours, I see very little "higher level thinking" going on in most classrooms, much less high levels of technology use.

Finally, I really hate the "digital immigrant" vs. "digital native" debate. Not every kid "knows technology" and not every adult is clueless.

However, too many educators approach teaching as an all or nothing affair. We cannot continue to assume that every student in our class learns in the same way. It's even less true today than it was in past "non-technological" days.

That's an off-the-top-of-the-head scattershot response. I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

alytapp said...

I agree with Tim, but would emphasize that it seems to be Prensky who is doing the most all-or-nothing thinking. He presented at the Governor's Institute for Innovation in Education, and many in the audience felt alienated and/or insulted. Their complaint? Prensky's quest bases itself on the all-or-nothing argument that American teachers are by-and-large useless and/or clueless. If revolutionary's job is to stir things up, he does a good job. Of course, according to Willard Daggett, revolutionaries get killed. (Not that I wish any harm whatsoever to Prensky!).

Ken Pruitt said...

Jim,
I for one haven't responded because I happily unplugged for about two weeks. It felt great.

The response is interesting coming from a student/teacher that has clearly made an effort just by being in the class. If this was someone random the best response would be exactly what you received, nothing. You and I both know that there is little time to drag along folks who refuse to change.

Coming from a reflective learner and practicing teacher my response to this post would end up being pretty positive.

- You sir/madame are demonstrating one of the key ideas of 21st century learning. You have clearly read the material, thought about the ideas within, constructed an argument, and communicated your message. The last piece in this circle is to take the resulting feedback and apply to your current thinking.-

While it is true that this teachers response comes across as extremely argumentative and I respectfully disagree with the majority of the reasoning at least the person arrived at a good conclusion. Education is a delicate balance.

That said, the tools are changing and they are drastically changing the learning environment. I heard a quote that I love, but I cannot attribute -Change is a river. It can go through you or around you.

Dogtrax said...

I find it interesting that the article is that it does identify that "reflection" is a weak area and one that we, as teachers, must strengthen this for our students.
The Internet provides many opportunities for audience, and for connection, and for writing, but I think there is a lack of reflection (and sometimes, I find myself guilty of this, too).

I note this, too, from the Prensky article:
Yet these educators know something is wrong, because they are not reaching their Digital Native students as well as they reached students in the past. So they face an important choice.

On the one hand, they can choose to ignore their eyes, ears and intuition, pretend the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant issue does not exist, and continue to use their suddenly-much-less-effective traditional methods until they retire and the Digital Natives take over.

Or they can chose instead to accept the fact that they have become Immigrants into a new Digital world, and to look to their own creativity, their Digital Native students, their sympathetic administrators and other sources to help them communicate their still-valuable knowledge and wisdom in that world's new language.


I wonder if the choice is this stark or not?

Peace,
Kevin Hodgson
Sixth Grade teacher
http://dogtrax.edublogs.org

Miguel said...

Kurt, thanks for the invite to post.

My response appears here:
http://www.mguhlin.net/archives/2008/01/entry_4140.htm

With appreciation,

Miguel Guhlin
Around the Corner-mGuhlin.net
http://mguhlin.net

LJC said...

I did read your blog and the article and found myself agreeing with points made by each teacher. In my opinion, technology is not a cure-all; it is a tool. Good teachers can teach well with or without technology. Using technology is more fun, though, for both students and teachers and since technology is going to be part of the students' worlds for the rest of their lives, it makes sense to help them become better at using it to create projects, learn to filter gold from the dross in the vast amount of information available on the net etc. Sure, they are good at texting and using their cell phones, but many are not all that good at using even consumer-level programs such as iMovie unless they get the chance to learn in class. They don't have to have mastered iMovie, for example, to use it. They will learn as they go and will add new effects as they need to do so to create/improve their projects. Thus, both teachers have valid points as do the other folks who commented.

Scott said...

One of the points made in the response to the article is that kids dropped out in the past and they still drop out today. Question? Do they drop out for the same reasons?

The world of the past is vastly different from the world of today. The jobs are different. Our way of life is different. So why should our way of instructing students not be updated to keep up with the world we are preparing them to live and work in.

OK, so let's accept the premise that the author makes that it is "a lot of rubbish...[that] students think differently." What if they need to learn to think differently.
Let's face it: the work world of today is an interconnected, creatively based, design oriented world. Jobs that are rote or that can be done by computers are increasingly being shipped overseas. The jobs of tomorrow, the jobs we are preparing students for, require a new way of thinking. Daniel Pink talks about this in "A Whole New Mind." These jobs will require big picture thinkers. They will require creative thinkers. And these people will have to connect with the production staffs, perhaps across the country or overseas. Thus, should we not be preparing students to live in that world? They live in that world to a degree at home, so why not bring that world in to the school to help them prepare for the world after graduation.?

None of this can be accomplished if we keep the kids lined up in rows and aisles and keep teaching using the methods of the past.

Scott McLeod said...

'The whole point of a teacher is that the teacher knows more about the topic than you do, and you need them to impart their knowledge to you before you can really do anything with it. . . . But before that point, when all is said and done and all the bells and whistles are examined, nothing beats a well-constructed, focused lecture (with an essential question, mind you) and nothing ever will, I dare say.'


The teacher's statements above fly in the face of what the last two decades of psychological research have found (which (surprise!) support constructivist models of learning rather than a transmission model of education!). 'Guide on the side,' not 'sage on the stage.' As much as possible, discovery- and inquiry-based learning rather than lecture and regurgitation.

There are too many teachers like this one.

Carl Anderson said...

I have always been skeptical of Prensky's work though I am always intrigued by his ideas and inspired by much of what he says. Prensky has a way of convincing most of us that our there is a neurological difference between the generations and that the current young generation is significantly different. He does this by pointing to things that all of us see and speaks to frustrations we all have. He does this in nearly every book or scholarly article he writes. I have to admit that I have at times been convinced by some of his arguments and I still think he has some valid points. Our students are different and the world is changing. That is nothing new. The world is always constantly changing. Change happens in different ways in different fields. Ask a 60 yr old in 1890 if the world was the same as when they were young and I am sure you would get a similar response. Ask an illustrator in the mid 1800s if technology is changing the world and I am sure you would hear an earful since photography brought that profession to a near standstill.

It is the nature of our brains to shape and form based on external stimulus. The stimulus that is around now is different than the stimulus that was around before and is different than the stimulus that will be around in the future. However, there is no affirmative evidence that the way we learn is significantly different today than it was in the past. The way we teach is changing and as Scott McLeod pointed out we have twenty years of research that affirms that a constructivist approach to teaching and learning is more effective than other known models. This does affirm what Prensky tells us about how we teach but what I have always been skeptical of and critical of is the method of content delivery Prensky prescribes. It is not that I don't think games have a place in education, to the contrary I think there is solid research to support their effectiveness (see Malone & Lepper, 1987). The problem is that Prensky represents a business interest that benefits financially from the adoption of a game centered curriculum. Also, as Jamie McKenzie points out, Prensky is not really a researcher and the whole basis for his Native/Immigrant argument is based on one study that he misquotes and spells the author's name wrong.

Prensky represents a polar end of the argument/topic of technology integration in school. I feel his writings are important for reflective practice but that we are building our houses in the sand by basing important pedagogical and curricular components of our practice on his iterations. The other polar end of this argument is represented by the student/teacher response to Prensky's article. I have to say I whole heartedly disagree with most of what this student/teacher writes, although I must admit that I had some similar responses the first time I read any of Prenskys work. I will address each point separately here:

1. he wrote: "The problem with constructing a "student-centered" curriculum where the students spend their time "learning" by connecting with their peers all over the world through blogs and whatnot is that this only works if the student knows the material already...The whole point of a teacher is that the teacher knows more about the topic than you do, and you need them to impart their knowledge to you before you can really do anything with it." -This response missed the point. The use of online publication tools in education is not always meant to be some kind of summative assessment. The value in activities such s blogging or collaborating on a wiki is that these tools are fluid. Students learn from interacting with others. A blog can be used to keep a record of progress on a project and to invite feedback from others outside the classroom community. These tools open up a whole world of human resources to students that were not available, or not easily available, before. Also, a student-centered curriculum is not one where the student dictates what is taught or what they will learn but rather a curriculum where the student interests drive the learning. Idealy this would look something like a student and a teacher both taking turns driving somewhere.
2. he wrote: "so just because kids seem disconnected in school doesn't necessarily have to do with technology. More likely its the usual reasons - they see us, like their parents, as authority figures trying to "keep them down"." I don't think this comment is totally off-base. I do agree that drop-out rates probably have less to do with technology than they have to do with other factors. However, technology can play a factor in possible solutions. I worked at an alternative school for two years. I have seen a lot of students drop out and understand the reasons pretty well in each case. Most of the time these students dropped out for reasons stemming from external factors such as homelessness, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, or involvement in organized crime. Of all the students I saw drop out of high school in the past two years I can only point to engagement as being the prime reason in two cases and those were two of the brightest students I ever encountered in eight years of teaching. In those two cases it was less about the technology but rather the methods of teaching and learning that were at fault. Had we been able to personalize their learning more and teach them, or rather guide them, in academic study that was more rigorous they may not have dropped out. However, both students were not motivated to do more because they knew it would not be sufficiently rewarded. I am sure both of these students will go on, much like this teacher/student's father, and have a successful career and life despite their drop-out status.
3. he wrote: "What matters is not necessarily how much technology you are using. Instead, what matters is if you are moving past pure memorization to higher level thinking. If you can use technology to do that, so be it, but if not, it doesn't make it any less authentic." I completely agree.

Jim Gates said...

Carl,

Thank you SO much for taking the time to respond with such a thoughtful discussion. I can tell you that Marc Prensky alienated a lot of teachers at a conference recently when he spoke. I think he forgot that the audience was all teachers, and he really lit them up. they went away from there feeling like they had all been scolded and called names.

But, his work sure is fun to talk about.

Thanks again. I hope to hear from you more often.