Just learned about “Schools lost and puzzled with multitasking and ubiquitous media” via heyjudeonline‘s Twitter. The opening quote goes like this:
“The average young American spends practically every waking minute – except for the time in school – using electronic media.”
This quote reminds me of something that I’ve heard one of my Teacher-Librarian colleagues say the last couple times I saw her: when our students come to school, we expect them to disconnect. It’s like cutting off their arms! Yet, as I sit in PD sans laptop or Blackberry or iPhone (not because I don’t want to use the technology but because I don’t have it – it’s difficult to take my desktop PC to PD), taking notes with traditional pen-and-paper technology, the majority of adults there with me do not disconnect. They are constantly checking their phones or typing away on their laptops.
This made me think about something I blogged way back in March 2008. It was after I had read a study from The National School Board Association’s entitled “Creating and Connecting” (pdf). The report talked about non-conformists which I equated to Malcolm Gladwell’s early adopters rather than (traditional) rule-breakers.
Which brings be back to our highly connected students and how they must disconnect at school. Up to this point I have been quite grim in this post. But I see glimmers. My own experience: If you provide students with engaging real-world tasks or challenges, ones that they know will be published to the world wide web to add to the body of worldly knowledge, they will rise to the occasion. My most recent experiences were related to publishing Writers’ Workshop pieces (a la Nancie Atwell) and submitting them to a writing contest, a pdf online magazine and a wiki for the world wide web to read. Knowing that these pieces are for the world, student ensure that their pieces are polished and on time – they don’t want to be the one that hasn’t met deadline (kind of like a traditional newspaper deadline)!
Outside of my own school, I have another middle school example as well as a high school example. In the first, students are using a version of a Moodle to collaborate on a planetary project – which they learned about in a very official letter to which they were to solve a problem and rise to the challenge. Many chose to report back via a webpage. And at this school it is the norm for students to have a variety of differentiated technological and learning style options to demonstrate their learning.
In the high school setting, both an English teacher and Biology teacher are using Google Apps via a student portal in their paperless classes. Both teachers commented on how students don’t lose things and always have access via an internet connection regardless of where they are. Students commented on how they have never felt more organized. No more missed assignments/handouts if a student has been absent as everything is available via the student portal. Also, when reading students writing, teachers are able to make revising or editing suggestions in a different color so that it is very evident what the teacher’s feedback is – and it can be compared to the student’s original version as it tracks all changes like a wiki.
I really can’t believe that it has been almost two years since I initially explored Web 2.0 tools. Back then I wondered how I could possible be so oblivious to all the tools. I had heard of blogging and wikipedia and had my own students blog – albeit in a very elementary way. Until you really immerse yourself in which ever of the tools that you wish for your students to use – be it blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc – you really don’t know their power. And, this is particularly the case if you don’t interact with people via the social web that is afforded to you as part of these tools – comments from unknown strangers who share similar interests and are compelled by what you say to comment on what you have published to the WWW – kind of like I did today as I haven’t blogged since May of last year!
Yes, students are connected today like they never have been before. If we do not harness the power of their skills in this area, they will disengage. They are able to use some of the tools, although, not all consider the benefits and consequences. At school, we can purposefully engage them in meaningful learning and unassemble the walls that confine us in our classrooms. The walls come down and the world comes in!