Networking, Learning, and Reporting the News

There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of days about networking, technology, and learning. In his blog, Jeff Jarvis talks about the idea that everybody is a network, meaning that

Networks are about sharing now; they used to be about control. Networks are two-way; they used to be one-way. Networks are about aggregation more than distribution; they are about finding and being found. Networks are now open while, by their very definition, they used to be closed. You join networks and leave them them at will; you can join any number of networks at once and content can be found via any number of networks, there is no practical limit. Networks used to be static. Now networks are fluid.

Will Richardson commented on this post in his own blog by stating that our educational system does not understand this notion and/or is not willing to deal with it, as it is still a top-down system that is reluctant to change. This is a dangerous situation, because it means that in many ways, school as they exist and operate today are not really preparing students for their future outside of school. As I was reading these posts I was reminded of an article written by Wade Roush last year, entitled "Social Machines", and subtitled "Computing means connecting." In it Roush basically argues that the technology currently available (mobile digital devices; wireless networks; the Internet and web-based social software tools) is creating a world of continuous computing, meaning "always connected", but also that technology is "continuous with our lives", i.e. it's an integrated part of our lives. We use technology when and where we need it, and we can tailor it completely to our needs. One thing that this type of connecting technology has allowed us to do is fundamentally change how the news is reported (and it should need no mention that the news is a form of learning). There are many similarities between the way the news is traditionally being reported and the way in which we teach our children:

  • Use of a top-down model, with only a few people really in charge
  • Information dispensed is pre-digested/shaded/biased…..
  • Information is dispensed at a specific time and in a specific way (e.g. newspaper or the evening news)
  • Comments or opinions about this information are provided by the agencies providing the information 
  • Consumers find ways to circumvent the established system.

It's this last point that I'd like to focus on here. When it comes to reporting the news, younger generations are turning away from the traditional media outlets in ever-increasing numbers, and instead are using mobile and networked technologies as well as web publishing and social software tools to collaboratively create, share, analyze, and digest what is happening in their world. The large media conglomerates are slowly beginning to realize that they are falling behind and are adding blogs and other social software tools to their own arsenals in the hopes that while ordinary people will contribute, the media outlet still controls the content to a large extent.

In education, similar processes are evident. Many students are networking, communicating, and yes, learning outside of school, using a wide variety of digital tools that they are not allowed to use in their own classrooms. While there are obvious dangers in setting kids loose on the Internet, what schools are overlooking is the fact that the types of digital networking and sharing kids are involved in will be a very real part of their future. What schools should be doing instead of outright blocking tools they don't understand or are afraid of, is learning about them and how they are used, and then helping kids (and parents!!) understand how to safely and responsibly use them. If schools don't do this, kids are going to find out how to use them on their own, and we all know what some of the consequences of that are.

Just as people are increasingly circumventing the major media networks, the more schools try to control and block kids from using tools like MySpace and Instant Messaging, the more they will find ways to use them, and often unsupervised. And it's these same kids that are supposed to take care of my generation when we hit retirement. Now that's a scary thought.

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