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.

If, as Selwyn points out, our students are not making full use of these possibilities, this is precisely the reason why we should ensure that we teach them how to use these new technologies to the full, rather than a reason why their use should be scaled down in favour of a more traditional, teacher-centred approach.

Imagine we give a seventeen-year-old the keys to a car and tell her to go drive it without any driving lessons and knowledge of the highway code. What Selwyn appears to be suggesting is that when the inevitable stalling and occasional crash happens, that would be proof that her driving skills aren’t up to scratch. Thus, she should hand the keys back to mum and dad and take her rightful place in the back seat.

Returning to teaching and learning with new technologies, teaching students how to use these technologies effectively for academic purposes is essential if we want them use them appropriately, less sporadically and more spectacularly.

We have a choice. We can shake our heads and tut when they crash, or we can teach them how to drive.

What do you think? Your comments are always welcome.

Photo by Morton Lin


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  1. I’m all for sitting in the passenger seat and going along for the ride, having taken out the insurance policy and put on the protective headwear!

  2. Excellent post. Yes, learning new technologies is a part of lifelong learning. General knowledge, skills and experience of concepts can be offered, and focus can be on specific software and hardware tools, allowing for transferable skills. Learning how to learn enables and reflection will enable students to decide how to best use the technology, for better or for worse.

  3. OK, but I am not sure the teachers themselves know very well how to use these technologies for academic purposes, so how can they show the students their possibilities?

Your feedback and comments are very welcome