Dawn doesn’t always come at the same time in Paragraph City. In fact, there are some corners where it hasn’t dawned in years; the television is on in most of those corners. However, it dawned recently in a third floor apartment of a brownstone on Duh Ave. over in the Tech/Learning district of Paragraph City.
This particular dawn began in Ira Socol’s fine SpeEdChange blog when he recommended the Becta report, Emerging Technologies for Learning . The Diana G. Oblinger (CEO of Educause) article “Growing up with Google: What it means to education” pulled a number of observations and confusions together for me, like tightening some loosened mental drawstring.
Observing Myself: When I teach research writing (as an example – this experience repeats in many other topics), I lecture a little, I demo a lot, I break the task down into its components, I give exercises designed to let students encounter the sort of problems they will really encounter — like judging the credibility of a website — and we talk a lot about what we would do & how we would troubleshoot a problem, and so forth. It’s not brilliant and it’s a lot like being in school and it’s not especially fun, but it is solid workmanlike learning and I keep students “engaged”. It would work for me.
One Confusion: More and more as the years go by, this process doesn’t work with my students. My students behave as if they were lazy or bored or dull, because they understand a process for a moment but then are not making the leap into applying the research writing process in their own writing. Students who have gotten good grades in writing courses before do fine, but the things that other students don’t get, they should be getting. I’m not talking about applying them to produce polished prose; I mean the basic “getting it”.
In Oblinger’s articles she writes three things that I have known before, but her clarity and connections brought them home as if they were fresh out of the oven:
Thing #1: “[Today’s students] prefer to learn by doing rather than telling or reading. ‘Don’t just tell us – let us discover.’ To illustrate, one student describe how she learned about video. ‘Well…I opened up the camera box, started messing around, and then figured out how to upload it. Took a while. Had to Google it a few times to figure out how to splice stuff together. Just took an hour or so.’ They teach themselves how to use technology – or learn it from their peers.”
So maybe my research writing students are lazy and dull, or maybe they need to learn by doing, with lots of messy mistakes and false starts and IMing each other.
Another Confusion: Why do my online students email me around mid-semester with questions about what my revision policy is or how much the quizzes count? It’s obviously in the syllabus, which they read at the start of the semester and which is still there back in the first course documents. If I were the student, I’d just go look it up.
Oblinger Thing #2: “Many students describe education as a business where efficient, convenient, technology-mediated transactions are expected.” In other words, students expect information to come to them, the Google model. Good grief, I think, students are using me to Google the course! (There are lesser things I could aspire to than being Google, but it’s really not what I set out to be.) Or are they just being lazy and dull?
A Last (for now) Confusion: So if this is the Wired, Digital Native, Google Generation, why are so many of my students so poor at finding things online? Why do they settle for weak, unreliable sources and base their writing on information which is biased, incomplete and often just wrong?
Oblinger Thing #3: “Nor does comfort with technology equate to a full appreciation of issues…. When asked, most students confess, ‘Sometimes we just don’t think about what we’re doing online.’” And “It’s easy to assume that learners – with their tech-savvy attitudes and world wise veneer – have greater maturity than their years….the tendency of young people to not be reflective – to pause, think, and ponder – may simply be a characteristic of youth.”
My Personal Revelation: Certainly some of my students are lazy and dull (just as some are, to give equal billing, crackly with intellectual voltage and laser focused), but to these tired eyes, the lazy and dull do not look much different from normal students who stand firmly in a new paradigm:
Information comes when I beckon it; I use it in my own sloppy, sling-about style, making lots of errors as I muddle through with the help of friends & strangers (of whom the professor is one), learning along the way, as I need it.
And that this is not laziness. It’s not particularly efficient and bursts the factory model of education, but haven’t we recognized since the days of John Dewey that “learning by doing” is what integrates the thing learned into the life lived? I can teach in this paradigm, I think, but it will take some doing.