I read a post on Ewan McGregor’s blog this morning entitled “Dutch mobiles in primary school: turn that phone on!” and couldn’t resist commenting, as it is after all a description of technology use in Dutch schools . The project is using 4G cell phones for teacher and student reflection on learning, focusing on the multimedia capabilities (vod, pod, and mp3) of these phones.
A couple of observations related to this post:
Ewan reports that “the very pragmatic Dutch have no issues letting the parents and students pick up the tab of this apparently enhancing education experience. Is that such a bad thing?” My answer to this question is NO! Yes, I’m aware of digital divide issues when some parents can afford to buy their kids the technology and others can’t, but the current and most prevalent practice of schools providing technology to students doesn’t work for a variety of reasons:
- If schools can’t afford technology, nobody has access;
- If schools can afford technology, student and teacher use is often restricted by filters, limited functionality for the sake of security (or to make the tech person’s job easier);
- Technology is only used during the school day and in school (this is esp. detrimental for mobile technologies which are designed to be, well, mobile);
- Because of the previous bullet point, technology used in schools is not seen by student as a lifelong learning tool.
I’ve said this before, but I really believe that we will get to a point where students, not schools, will provide the technology for learning, and it will be up to the schools to make a wide variety of devices work together, using ad hoc, wireless networks.
Another thing I’d like to point out is the concept of Homo Zappiens, described by Prof. Wim Veen, which Ewan’s post links to as well. Veen describes the net generation in an interesting way. A few excerpts from his article:
Homo Zappiens is the generation that has grown up using three devices from early childhood on: the TV remote control, the PC mouse and the cell phone. These three devices have enabled today’s’ children to control information flows, to deal with information overload, and to select information properly, swiftly and according to their needs.
Note that the devices Veen mentions are all small and mobile, AND that the focus is on controlling and using information, not technology (along the lines of what David Warlick has been saying all along).
The net generation considers school as a meeting place for friends rather than a learning environment. School does not challenge them sufficiently for learning and take the risk of getting disconnected from their audience.
Nothing new here, but another voice to add to the discussion related to the need to revamp schools to change this attitude.
Parents are concerned that their kids are only playing games, surfing the net, watching TV and hardly go out for sports or never read a book. This is all understandable, but instead of looking at children from the point of view of what they should do according to school and parents, let’s look into what they actually do. By using the web, playing PC games and zapping TV channels, they develop critical learning skills that are extremely useful in an information society.
Emphasis added by me. Here is where a big part of the problem lies. It’s easy to blame the kids for not fitting into the existing system. It’s much more difficult for schools and parents to take a long, hard look at themselves and reflect on whether their point of view is still tenable in a society that is driven by digital, networked information.
Finally, Veen provides a list of skills that Homo Zappiens has:
- Scanning skills: looking at a variety of digital information formats on a screen and deciding where to go or what to do next;
- Multi-tasking: doing many things at once;
- Processing discontinued information: “processing various interrupted information flows and extracting meaningful knowledge out of them. This skill helps kids to deal with huge amounts of information effectively.“
- Non-linear learning: information on the Web is organized in this way. Starting to use something without reading the manual is another good example, because it becomes learning by trial and error instead of a linear process.
Veen argues that, by and large, schools are not taking advantage of these skills, and I tend to agree. It’s an important component of the reason why there is such a disconnect between kids and schools, because schools tend to focus on text-based information, single-tasking, and linear information and processes.
And as Veen concludes with this question, so will I: “Western countries have invested huge amounts of money and effort in restructuring their old industrial economies into modern service-oriented societies. Isn’t it strange we did not the same with our education system? “
Image Credit: Wim Kok: