Think about the number of times in a day that you make your way to Google (or another search engine) or how frequently you check your cell phone (whether or not it’s smart); we depend on information and communication that’s just a click or swipe away. Now, consider the technology available in classrooms with one or two outdated desktops. It’s unlikely that students are using Web 2.0 tools to enhance the learning experience, or that they’re engaged in real-world collaboration. Recent publications by two innovators in education, Will Richardson and Marc Prensky, offer lively commentary on the changes in attitude, access, and implementation that they believe need to take hold if today’s kids are going to be prepared for a different tomorrow. For Prensky and Richardson, it’s less about getting all students on the same page at the same time and more about using digital tools creatively to improve learning and instruction.
In From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning (Corwin, 2012), Marc Prensky, whose 2001 essay “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” (reprinted in this volume) looked at the “intergenerational confusion around the then-emerging digital technology,” presents a compilation of his writings and musings, most of which have been published previously. Divided into two parts, the first, “Rethinking Education,” begins with Prensky’s argument that current “educational improvement efforts” will ultimately be ineffective because they “are aimed at bringing back the education that America offered students in the 20th century…although it no longer works for most of our students.” He pens a convincing case against “curriculum overload” and the need to decide “what skills can be deleted from the curricula,” with suggestions that are bound to engender some serious debate (and headshaking resistance).
“On Learning,” explores what learning is and how it happens, and “Turning On the Lights,” underscores the importance of including students in the conversation and tapping into high-interest subjects such as robotics and computer programming, topics often relegated to afterschool clubs. Part two moves to “21st Century Learning, and Technology in the Classroom,” with selections such as, “The Longer View: Why YouTube Matters,” “What Can You Learn From a Cell Phone? Almost Anything!” and “The True 21st Century Literacy is Programming.” (A recent New York Times article, “Computer Science for the Rest of Us” also speaks to adding “computational thinking” or programming to the curriculum.) The last entry, “Epilogue: From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” considers the emerging “Homo sapiens digital” and posits that while there is no going back to the world of teaching and learning as it was, there is greater wisdom to be gained with the prudent use of digital technology. At the end of each part, Prensky includes “Questions for Reflection” which are sure to spark a conversation with any group interested in the role of technology in education.
Will Richardson, the co-founder of Powerful Learning Practice, which offers collaborative online professional development for educators, has been blogging “about the intersection of social online learning networks and education for the past 10 years.” In Learning on the Blog: Collected Posts for Educators and Parents (Corwin, 2011), Richardson has organized his “most discussed, most debated, most fun” blog posts into six groups, “Teachers as Master Learners,” “Learning is Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone,” “The Learner as Network,” “Learning and Leadership,” “Parent as Partner,” and “The Bigger Shifts…Deal With It.” Since these pieces originally appeared as online posts, Richardson directly addresses readers and stirs personal anecdotes about his experience as a father of two school-age kids into the mix.
Primarily optimistic, the author pushes teachers to think more about “the potentials rather than the problems” presented by runaway advances in technology. For Richardson, it’s not about learning how to use laptops or iPads to support the status quo; it’s about the possibility of “social web technologies” and online resources to move teachers and students to personalized and self-directed learning. And, like Prensky, he worries that present school reform “misses the point. We don’t need better any longer, we need different. Really different.” With a nod to the post “Get. Off. Paper.” in which Richardson writes about a workshop participant printing and distributing a link-filled document and the author’s observation in the introduction that “there’s a certain amount of irony in publishing a book of collected blog posts that can be freely found online,” it warrants noting that Learning on the Blog is chock-full of web-related links. (Those ready to make the electronic leap can avoid a certain level of frustration by considering the Kindle version.)
Whether or not readers accept each author’s view on the present (and future) educational landscape, there’s no denying the need for administrators, teachers, and reformers to consider the continually changing face of technology and its influence on teaching and learning. Both writers would probably agree that getting stakeholders to think about the issues confronting today’s schools with an eye toward incorporating new ideas and solutions is essential.
This article originally appeared in School Library Journal’s enewsletter Curriculum Connections. Subscribe here.
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