Another wonderfully inspiring talk by @SirKenRobinson

“The dropout crisis is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Sir Ken Robinson. ” What it doesn’t count are all the kids who are in school, but being disengaged from it, who don’t enjoy it, who don’t get any real benefit from it”. Call me rhetorical but these are, in my opinion, words of wisdom that apply not just to America, but to many other countries, including Malta. All the problems we are seeing here, and all the problems that are yet to come can not be seen as the malady, or the sickness but a symptom of this “disengagement” that students are manifesting from school and worse still, from learning. Students are equating learning with schools and teaching, and are therefore simply shutting down to learning – learning is what ultimately would benefit the economy – learning is what ultimately contributes to a ‘knowledge society’. If a society, as a whole is a learned society, a knowledgeable society that can critically reflect upon problems, that has the ability to find solutions, and that has this wonderful sense of wishing to contribute by creating something new, then of course we certainly don’t need any standardised tests to tell us that we’re doing well. We would be doing well, as a whole country and we would certainly show it. Maybe I am being ‘utopic’ here, but unless we start shifting the way we think and rethink different directions in education, we will continue to wallow. As Sir Ken Robinson says, “Children are not, for the most part suffering from a psychological condition… they are suffering from childhood” !!! – and this really goes to say, that if we keep expecting all our kids to sit down for hour after hour, listening, and listening, then we should expect nothing else but disengagement – manifested in a variety of different ways.

Wonderfully inspiring and engaging as always – thank you Sir Ken Robinson.

Advertisements

The Power of Networks

I always enjoy listening to talks embedded in RSA animations. I find they are thoroughly stimulating, but revisiting this video I couldn’t not comment or link to it from my blog.

Connections and networks, are two words that have been around since the existence of mankind but that have enjoyed the benefit of being right in the middle of the ‘buzz’ only recently through the application of the online social media phenomena like Facebook and Twitter. Many people, including educators, discourage the use of online social networking because of what they call as ‘the implications’ of online social networks. I gather, that by ‘implications’ they are actually thinking about the negative or the adverse effects. To these people I would really suggest this book – by Christakis and Fowler – for it presents some interesting insights about what networks really are and what they can really do, whether for education, life, love, economy and politics.

In reality, we have a lot to learn through our connections. Wherever in the 1980’s I could only interact, and possibly learn, by the close knit community I had built around me of parents, and a few school friends, 30 years on, my learning interactions have possibly become … limitless! In the 1980’s and 1990’s I guess it was understandable and excusable that we would only learn from books. Possibly employers might have been right in saying that people coming out of higher education were not so practical – unless they went through a student-worker kind of scheme. And even so, most of our learning could come only from books, and from the teacher or lecturer. That was the era. But now, that the power of networks has been unleashed – that we have become so much aware of what connected really means and what it can really imply, I find it beyond comprehension that we are still listening to people saying that there is a gap between theory and practice, just as I find it incomprehensible that at higher education, students are still expecting to be told what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn it. Students, academics, teachers, everyone – can wield and harness such great power. The question is – do they know how? do they even know where to start from? I think the answer has to start with education – education is the key to this. No more regurgitation of content please! No more passivity – no more of the recipient metaphor. And if we start with education about the power of networks… who knows where we might end. The journey in itself is a most interesting pursue!

Can there be too much of screen time? Too many computer games? I think not…

This afternoon I happened to be reading an article on the Sunday Times of Malta, in the Education page, where one particular author was describing how children’s healthy growth and development is attributed to their interactions with the “three dimensional first hand engagement”. In short the author was pushing for a more “healthy” physical environment expressing doubts and a certain perplexity about the time that our children spend in the virtual and online environment. Although everyone is entitled to their opinions and of course to publicize their school’s agendas, I always believe that an argument is healthy when it is viewed critically from both perspectives. I do suggest that the author and others who might find the subject of children, digital literacies and the virtual environment interesting, spruce up their reading habits to include works from authors such as Howard Rheingold, Henry Jenkins and Jaron Lanier amongst others.

I do admit and agree that many parents express a certain amount of worry when children seem to spend a lot of time in front of screens and interacting with seemingly ‘inhumane’ content – content that has nothing of the “human touch” we are so used to. The author in the article, looks back on the time when she was a kid  and she could play on the streets with other kids. This, I believe, reflects the thoughts of many, who like me and presumably the author as well, were kids two or three decades ago. However the world has come a long way in these two to three decades. The evolution that has happened in the way we, as humans communicate in these two decades, compares with more than at least two centuries since the birth of the first forms of telephone-based communication.

Quoting Howard Rheingold in NetSmart, “Digital Literacies can leverage the Web’s architecture of participation, just as the spread of reading skills amplified collective intelligence five centuries ago. Today’s digital literacies can make the difference between being empowered or manipulated, serene or frenetic”. I find that this quote really summarizes my answers, when someone tries to push forward reasons why we shouldn’t include technologies and devices at school or when someone tries to stop the spread of social media in schools and in education. I was once shown a Facebook post, where a teacher, (more than one actually) were commenting on the use of games in the classroom. One particularly worrying update was this – “Games in schools!!! … what is education coming to? This is not the way we were taught and this is certainly not the way we should teach“. I find THIS post, more than anyone telling me that his son or daughter is spending time online, for two particular reasons. I would say that as a starting point, we cannot teach the way we were taught. The world has changed, the economy has changed, the society has changed, the community in which we are living has changed, and the expectations have changed. When I was a teenager, I remember that the job that was most popular amongst girls, was a job as a factory worker, a bank clerk or at most a teacher. I believe that the expectations, these days, in Malta and abroad are different; society’s needs are different, and in order to turn the wheel of our country’s economy it is important that the expectations change. So how can we, as teachers, affirm that we need to do things in the classroom the way things were done two or three decades ago?????

The second worrying issue is that these teachers, seem not to embrace the fact that change is not just important, but that preparing for change, is vital for the success of the individual and society in the 21st century. As Rheingold mentions, it is important that people acquire skills not just in terms of the content (from an academic perspective), but also in terms of how to best make use of those skills to work “in concert with others, in an effective way”. It is useless for teachers to say that the IWB is just a glitzy gimmick and keep refusing to integrate it in the classroom, just as it is useless for them to say that Facebook is “an unwanted distraction” in the classroom or that digital games are a “waste of time” and thus act as if these things do not exist. We, as educators, more than teachers, need to make sure that when our young people encounter these, beyond the classroom walls, they know how to deal with them, in a way that that they are empowered and not manipulated by the people behind the masses and overload of information that is thrown at us on a daily basis. My advice is this… let us not bury our heads in the sand. The reality is that we need to add a whole lot of skills which we need to help our young people acquire – and these are digital literacies, or rather the way in which our young people can start filtering and detecting the whole lot of crap that exists, and instead make critical use of it, in a way that is effective, efficient and that can lead us, as a whole community, forward. Let us embrace change in a way that can help us make the world a better place.