Driving lessons

Neil Selwyn mounts a refreshing challenge to the accepted wisdom behind the digital native / digital immigrants dichotomy put forward by Prensky and others. As I have said before, this dichotomy is misleading and is unfortunately often used to justify poor pedagogy by promoting the notion that teachers are not able to learn about or understand the new technologies their students use.

However, Selwyn appears to play down the potential that new technologies – especially Web 2.0 – can offer education. He says:

Whilst some commentators may like to imagine collaborative communities of content creation, in reality many young people’s engagement with technology is often far more passive, solitary, sporadic and unspectacular, be it at home or in school.

Anyone who has worked in a school recently can hear echoes of truth in this statement. Teenagers in particular appear to use the internet more to gossip online and “for self-expression and self-promotion than for actually listening to and learning from others”.

Selwyn therefore advocates a blended approach to teaching and learning in which new technologies play a limited role with teachers retaining an “authoritative role” in directing the students.

This appears to me to miss the point entirely, in that the possibilities afforded to us by what we call new technologies (electronic communication has been around for a while now) are not fully explored.

The fact is that our students have a gamut of new possibilities at their disposal that can potentially have an enormously beneficial impact in the way they learn both from us and by themselves.

Neil Selwyn mounts a refreshing challenge to the accepted wisdom behind the digital native / digital immigrants dichotomy put forward by Prensky and others. As I have said before, this dichotomy is misleading and is unfortunately often used to justify poor pedagogy by promoting the notion that teachers are not able to learn about or understand the new technologies their students use.

However, Selwyn appears to play down the potential that new technologies – especially Web 2.0 – can offer education. He says:

Whilst some commentators may like to imagine collaborative communities of content creation, in reality many young people’s engagement with technology is often far more passive, solitary, sporadic and unspectacular, be it at home or in school.

Anyone who has worked in a school recently can hear echoes of truth in this statement. Teenagers in particular appear to use the internet more to gossip online and “for self-expression and self-promotion than for actually listening to and learning from others”.

Selwyn therefore advocates a blended approach to teaching and learning in which new technologies play a limited role with teachers retaining an “authoritative role” in directing the students.

This appears to me to miss the point entirely, in that the possibilities afforded to us by what we call new technologies (electronic communication has been around for a while now) are not fully explored.

The fact is that our students have a gamut of new possibilities at their disposal that can potentially have an enormously beneficial impact in the way they learn both from us and by themselves.

The shortchanged generation

Many of my students often cite Facebook as one of the principal distractions from academic work, especially at this time of year when many of them are franticly preparing for their examinations. This is often seized upon by educators opposed to the use of social networking sites in schools, who use this apparent rejection of social networking sites by students to bolster the, in my view, erroneous notion that social networking sites are either just a fad or not worth the trouble.

However, this apparent rejection by students is not really surprising because schools and educators have, more often than not, shunned the use of social networking sites, even though they are quickly becoming the prevalent form of communication today – social networking sites are the C in ICT. If in doubt, ask any thirteen year old when was the last time they sent an email to a friend.

As we have consistently ignored the obvious educational potential of online social networking and communication, leisure has become the focal point of our students’ use of social networking sites. Using social networking sites for academic learning has simply never entered the equation.

And that’s not their fault, it’s ours. By ignoring the rise of online communities and online social interaction, we have essentially abandoned our students to teach themselves how to communicate in the 21st century, insisting instead on teaching them how to communicate and survive in a world that will not exist once they have left school.

Many of my students often cite Facebook as one of the principal distractions from academic work, especially at this time of year when many of them are franticly preparing for their examinations. This is often seized upon by educators opposed to the use of social networking sites in schools, who use this apparent rejection of social networking sites by students to bolster the, in my view, erroneous notion that social networking sites are either just a fad or not worth the trouble.

However, this apparent rejection by students is not really surprising because schools and educators have, more often than not, shunned the use of social networking sites, even though they are quickly becoming the prevalent form of communication today – social networking sites are the C in ICT. If in doubt, ask any thirteen year old when was the last time they sent an email to a friend.

As we have consistently ignored the obvious educational potential of online social networking and communication, leisure has become the focal point of our students’ use of social networking sites. Using social networking sites for academic learning has simply never entered the equation.

And that’s not their fault, it’s ours. By ignoring the rise of online communities and online social interaction, we have essentially abandoned our students to teach themselves how to communicate in the 21st century, insisting instead on teaching them how to communicate and survive in a world that will not exist once they have left school.

On half measures and middle ways

It never ceases to surprise me that whenever the issue of new technologies in the classroom gets mentioned – whether it’s in blog posts, blog comments, tweets, seminars, Q&A sessions, staff meetings… – what should be a level headed debate about the future of education soon descends into full blown antagonism between unstoppable forces and unmovable objects.

This seemingly unsurmountable chasm is typically represented by those who see technology as an unwelcome alternative to good, tried and tested pedagogical practices and those who see potential in the use of new and emerging technologies …as an alternative. This, it would appear, is a topic in which there are no half measures. You’re either with us or…

It’s strikes me that both sides in this argument are being just as shortsighted as they accuse each other to be.

A case in point is the recent article published in Mashable titled 6 Reasons Tablets are Ready for the Classroom – with which I broadly agree, by the way. The article is all for tablets in the classroom, as you might guessed from its title. Not a but in sight.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the first comments this article elicited were negative. Some readers thought tablets were “expensive toys” or “books that glow” while others agreed wholeheartedly and could see nothing but tablets in their classrooms.

It never ceases to surprise me that whenever the issue of new technologies in the classroom gets mentioned – whether it’s in blog posts, blog comments, tweets, seminars, Q&A sessions, staff meetings… – what should be a level headed debate about the future of education soon descends into full blown antagonism between unstoppable forces and unmovable objects.

This seemingly unsurmountable chasm is typically represented by those who see technology as an unwelcome alternative to good, tried and tested pedagogical practices and those who see potential in the use of new and emerging technologies …as an alternative. This, it would appear, is a topic in which there are no half measures. You’re either with us or…

It’s strikes me that both sides in this argument are being just as shortsighted as they accuse each other to be.

A case in point is the recent article published in Mashable titled 6 Reasons Tablets are Ready for the Classroom – with which I broadly agree, by the way. The article is all for tablets in the classroom, as you might guessed from its title. Not a but in sight.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the first comments this article elicited were negative. Some readers thought tablets were “expensive toys” or “books that glow” while others agreed wholeheartedly and could see nothing but tablets in their classrooms.

The case for online social networking in education

The use of online social networking in education – in its widest sense – is an often maligned and, in my view, misunderstood topic which engenders strong reactions both in its favour and against.

The picture above depicts movable type from a printing press. The printing press analogy is often used to illustrate the enormous impact that the internet is having in our society and civilisation.

Just like Gutenberg revolutionised the sharing of ideas when he invented the movable type printing press around 1440, the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate today. Today communication is instantaneous and, as more and more devices allow us to communicate more and more information, we have entered an era of information on demand.

The rising importance and availability of online social networks and their popularity among young people are undeniable facts. The use of the internet is becoming an ever more integral part of young people’s lives and, as a result, they are communicating with each other on an unprecedented scale.

In my view, pedagogy needs to reflect these social changes and conform to the needs and expectations of today’s young people. Using ICT with a focus on the C for Communication allows us to bring the learning online and to blend the use of traditional tools such as textbooks or dictionaries with more up-to-date, relevant and authentic multimedia materials from the web.

Online social networks provide teachers and students with a platform in which they can interact beyond the constraints of the school walls, and with which the teacher can provide personalised feedback and support.

In this post, I aim to challenge preconceptions regarding the use of online social networking in education and to provide an alternative, more positive discourse highlighting the many benefits modern means of communication can bring to education.

The use of online social networking in education – in its widest sense – is an often maligned and, in my view, misunderstood topic which engenders strong reactions both in its favour and against.

The picture above depicts movable type from a printing press. The printing press analogy is often used to illustrate the enormous impact that the internet is having in our society and civilisation.

Just like Gutenberg revolutionised the sharing of ideas when he invented the movable type printing press around 1440, the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate today. Today communication is instantaneous and, as more and more devices allow us to communicate more and more information, we have entered an era of information on demand.

The rising importance and availability of online social networks and their popularity among young people are undeniable facts. The use of the internet is becoming an ever more integral part of young people’s lives and, as a result, they are communicating with each other on an unprecedented scale.

In my view, pedagogy needs to reflect these social changes and conform to the needs and expectations of today’s young people. Using ICT with a focus on the C for Communication allows us to bring the learning online and to blend the use of traditional tools such as textbooks or dictionaries with more up-to-date, relevant and authentic multimedia materials from the web.

Online social networks provide teachers and students with a platform in which they can interact beyond the constraints of the school walls, and with which the teacher can provide personalised feedback and support.

In this post, I aim to challenge preconceptions regarding the use of online social networking in education and to provide an alternative, more positive discourse highlighting the many benefits modern means of communication can bring to education.

The internet isn't going anywhere

As anyone who owns a laptop knows, you don’t really notice the internet until it isn’t there – until there is no wi-fi available or you’re out of 3G coverage. At this point your computer becomes a glorified typewriter and you suddenly realise your laptop is not as useful anymore.

The internet has reached such ubiquity that, much like electricity, we take it for granted.

Our students have been quick to exploit this ubiquity by incorporating the internet into the way they communicate and into their leisure activities. To them the internet is not so much an alternative cyber world, but rather an extension of the real world.

As anyone who owns a laptop knows, you don’t really notice the internet until it isn’t there – until there is no wi-fi available or you’re out of 3G coverage. At this point your computer becomes a glorified typewriter and you suddenly realise your laptop is not as useful anymore.

The internet has reached such ubiquity that, much like electricity, we take it for granted.

Our students have been quick to exploit this ubiquity by incorporating the internet into the way they communicate and into their leisure activities. To them the internet is not so much an alternative cyber world, but rather an extension of the real world.

The wood for the trees

This cannot go on. Our school exams are running the risk of becoming invalid as their medium of pen and ink increasingly differs from the way in which youngsters learn.

Earlier this week The Independent published extracts from an interview with Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of the UK’s exams watchdog Ofqual, in which she argued that exam preparation would “become a separate thing to learning” for our “more digitally aware pupils”.

This cannot go on. Our school exams are running the risk of becoming invalid as their medium of pen and ink increasingly differs from the way in which youngsters learn.

Earlier this week The Independent published extracts from an interview with Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of the UK’s exams watchdog Ofqual, in which she argued that exam preparation would “become a separate thing to learning” for our “more digitally aware pupils”.

Magic bullets

One of the things that worries me most about the use of technology in our classrooms is, well, how technology centred it all can be. Many of us fall in the trap of viewing particular technologies – a pile of netbooks or a bunch of iPads – as the solution to all that is wrong with education.

I was recently listening to a speaker from Apple who proudly gave an account of how some universities in the US and a school in the UK had given an iPod to every single one of their students.

One of the things that worries me most about the use of technology in our classrooms is, well, how technology centred it all can be. Many of us fall in the trap of viewing particular technologies – a pile of netbooks or a bunch of iPads – as the solution to all that is wrong with education.

I was recently listening to a speaker from Apple who proudly gave an account of how some universities in the US and a school in the UK had given an iPod to every single one of their students.