Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Listen to the Digital Natives, Sync Up With Your iKids

Purely by coincidence, the day after I wrote the post on Marc Prensky and Born Digital, I came across an article by Prensky which appeared as the cover story of Edutopia some weeks ago. The story is titled "Young Minds, Fast Times: The Twenty-First-Century Digital Learner: How tech-obsessed iKids would improve our schools." I believe that at the core of this issue is again the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants that I talked about in the previous post.

The article to me is less about what kids would like their school education to look like, than about the simple but so very important act of listening to kids; and not just about what they feel about their learning and how they would like to learn, but everything that concerns them and their lives. It seems so ironical that we attempt to shape our kids into responsible, questioning, independent-thinking human beings, but do not allow them to question or have a say in how they would like to learn and be taught; about how they would like to spend those countless hours in the classroom through those dozen odd years that we keep them in school.

If you did ask, you'd find out that kids of today are BORED, BORED, BORED by plain old chalk and talk (See some quotes below from the article). Think about how they spend their time outside the classroom and during their vacations, and contrast that with how we expect them to sit - hour after hour and day after day in the classroom - with none of the technology that they are so fluent and happy with outside of school - listening to teachers who are so clueless about how to engage them. Can we blame them if they find most of their classes mind-numbingly boring and have this to say ? --

"I'm bored 99 percent of the time."

"School is really, really boring."

"We are so bored."

"Engage us more."

"[My teachers] bore me so much I don't pay attention."

"Pointless. I'm engaged in two out of my seven classes."

Prensky calls "unacceptable and untenable" the fact that "Unlike in the corporate world, where businesses spend tens of millions researching what their consumers really want, when it comes to how we structure and organize our kids' education, we generally don't make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught.", and he likens this to the treatment of women before suffrage.

According to the article - "Students universally tell us they prefer dealing with questions rather than answers, sharing their opinions, participating in group projects, working with real-world issues and people, and having teachers who talk to them as equals rather than as inferiors. Hopefully, this is useful information for teachers and other educators -- and it is important that educators realize just how universal these opinions are."

Prensky concludes the article with -- "After hosting dozens of these conversations, I realize one thing: We just don't listen enough to our students. The tradition in education has been not to ask the students what they think or want, but rather for adult educators to design the system and curriculum by themselves, using their "superior" knowledge and experience.

But this approach no longer works. Not that the inmates should run the asylum, but as twenty-first-century leaders in business, politics, and even the military are finding out, for any system to work successfully in these times, we must combine top-down directives with bottom-up input. As the students have told me on more than one occasion, "We hope educators take our opinions into account and actually do something!" Until we do, their education will not be the best we can offer."

(Image copied from Edutopia; credited to David Julian)

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