It was exciting to take advantage of an invitation on twitter from Ryan Bretag to look in on a discussion with a group of students on the impact of technology in education. It was a broadcast on Ustream TV. During the broadcast there many other educators in the chat room listening in and commenting on the conversation. As an educator who rarely gets the opportunity to have such rich conversations with students (other than my own three kids) I was really interested in what they had to say.
In the broadcast, Ryan introduced them to a few tools such as Twitter, social networking (specifically Ning), and google docs. I wasn’t surprised that they hadn’t heard of any of these tools. Although we give digital natives a lot of credit for knowing everything, in reality, they only know the tools they use in their personal or academic life. They don’t have any more time than us grownup to go out there and seek out what’s new and interesting. That’s our job as ed-techs. The thing that really impressed me, to the point of smiling from ear-to-ear, was the thoughtful questions and comments in terms of how the tools are valuable. Twitter, for example wasn’t met with much enthusiasm at first, as far as a tool that fits in to school. When examples such as being able to use twitter to communicate with others at different schools was offered, then the students were interested. The students really focused on the value for school. How would this be used in the context of the classroom? I was really impressed that the students focused on the value of the tools in their learning environment.
Ning made them nervous. Social networking is viewed as something they do in their free time. Networking with teachers? Not so much. When Ryan made it clear that Ning is a more professional tool, than the students could see the value in using it as a tool for communication and collaboration. They could wrap their heads around the value of the tool as they separated the concept from their own “facebooked world”.
Google Docs was really met with a lot of enthusiasm. Many students brought up specific examples of how they would use this tool as they worked in groups. The described scenarios where emailing documents back and forth to team mates really failed, or kept them up until all hours if the message didn’t arrive right away.
While I was listening in on this conversation, I was forming a plan to have a similar type round table discussion with the middle school students in my district. I run a risk because middle school students are not quite as focused and insightful as they will be in a few years. The I thought about having this kind of discussion with the teachers. With the teachers, I run the risk of getting a great deal of resistance. “Who has time?” is a question I get a lot. Also, unfamiliar tools tend to get a lot of resistance from non-digital native because we can always find fault with something that seems really new and different. In addition, in the case of elementary school, if only some teachers used the tools and most others didn’t, would all of the students get an equitable chance for exposure or utilization?
Ryan blogged about these discussions this weekend. He really hit the nail on the head here:
Bottom line: Despite growing up in a digital world, they aren’t as familiar with the tools or use the tools as much as we believe. However, the difference is that they are open-minded compared to some of an older generation.
A lot of time, we give these kids credit for knowing more than they really do, but we don’t give them credit enough for having the same kind of sense of urgency and same recognition of value of their own educational experiences.