Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ya know, this isn't like Facebook,,,,

...said a very frustrated 8th grader to me the other day in class as he grappled to learn how to use Google docs and sites. I replied, "Yeah, I know. There's more to know than Facebook."

Whenever I hear educators say, "It's okay if we don't know much about the digital world because the kids know more than we do anyway, so they can teach us," I cringe. It's a dangerous myth because students primarily only know a few social apps well and the statement excuses, and may actually prevent, teachers from taking control of their own learning.  I know why it's said - it's to acknowledge and diminish the fear of  losing control and the premise that the teacher has to know everything before they teach it. What a shame that teachers were ever led to believe that way in the first place because too many either strive for or want to uphold that undesirable premise thereby keeping them in their comfort zone of what they know and learning only that which is presented in an inadequate few hours of often inadequate professional development. The digital roller coaster has already left the gate, so educators must catch and manage the ride, first without barfing and then with finesse, because our students are already thrilling swiftly along the tracks but they don't know all the ups and downs, twists and turns, and loop de loops.
Our kids know Facebook and MSN Messenger, texting and similar. Beyond that their skills vary widely and sparsely. I would wager my first born son that I collectively know more than any of my students about the myriad of digital tools available and more importantly, the skills needed to navigate the constantly dynamic and changing information and media landscape. I immersed myself into the digital world three years ago and it's a darn good thing I did, otherwise I would never be efficient, effective or comfortable in attempting to use all things digital in my classroom. There are and always will be select students who know more about a particular program or bit of hardware or software logic that I lack, and for that I am exceedingly grateful that they are there to teach me. Furthermore, I seek their knowledge and accept their suggestions without hesitation. However, it is not their responsibility to teach me - it is my responsibility to learn for myself because that is the demand of my profession. A teacher must be a learner first and forevermore. How can one lead and inspire others to learn if they won't first learn for themselves?

I propose we revise the myth to a more truthful statement and one that will allow teachers to move forward. "It's okay if we don't know everything about the digital world because we can learn while simultaneously realizing, it's okay that we will never learn it all." If an educator hasn't yet managed to dip much more than their big toe into the digital ocean it can be ridiculously overwhelming. What to do? Don't be afraid to admit you don't know and ask for help from someone who does. Ask how they got started, how they learned, and what they would suggest. You can start with a formal course about tech integration or learn informally with what's on the web. With every new thing learned you will recognize patterns and similarities in the interfaces of the tools so they become more intuitive for you to use.You can learn which blog, website and Twitter authors to follow that will yield valuable lessons, resources and advice. You can learn where and how information is stored and accessed and practice your own searches for incredible content and presentation.

Above all, resist the temptation and trap of related myths that will deter you from learning. Myth number two, "My students don't have adequate access to computers anyway, so what's the point?" The point is, what would you do with them if they did? Learn awesome stuff first, and when your students have the computers, do awesome things with them and share awesome things your students have created, connected with and collaborated on. The power to make this happen, or not, is in your hands.

Finally, run away as quickly as you can from myths three and four. Myth number three, "Just because it's digital doesn't mean kids are learning any better so it's really not all that necessary anyway." It should go without saying that there must be sound pedagogy paired with digital tools and information. What is not always clear and should be made clear is that it is a waste and shame to use computers merely for electronic forms of what has been done in the past, ie: worksheets, flashcards and quizzes.   Finally, my personal favorite myth for triggering a 10 on my disbelief meter. Technology is always changing, schools can't keep up, so why bother?"  To which I reply,  "let me fetch you a quill, inkpot and parchment for you to use for all your work here from now on. Or better yet, go scratch on a cave wall somewhere."

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