Teaching Old Tricks to New Dogs…

I just read a pretty amazing post that has my brain whirring… Ewan McIntosh has been gracing my blog with a few comments as of late, so I felt compelled to check out his blog. Yikes.
Sorry, not a very formal review, but his post entitled “Socialising, Identity 2.0 and education? is pretty mind blowing. A few bits that stand out in the haze of my mind after reading it:

What’s wrong with classrooms, text books and paper-driven homework diaries and learning logs? Nothing much. But our kids think differently to the way that most of our (aging) teaching population think. And if I, a teacher aged 27 who has had a computer since the age of six, has blogged since 2001 and has won two national awards for the connections my websites have made for kids is already using these tools to socialise, goodness knows what our children are going to be doing in 27 years’ time. (McIntosh, “Socialising, Identity,? )

McIntosh’s verbage seems to echo thoughts voiced by Prensky and others; thoughts around the idea that todays students are learning and thinking differently than we did. I find it interesting that I am the same age as McIntosh. I, too, have had a computer since I was a young child (ahh…the Tandy 100, complete with tape cassette player for running programs), but I was slower to enter the blogosphere than McIntosh was. I guess you could say we represent the emergence of the ‘digital native’ (again, thanks to Prensky for coining such a cool moniker), but the difference even between my own computer experience and that of the average student today is vastly different.
When I was 12 or so, students were fudging around with commodore 64’s during lunch playing video games, the www was just limping onto the scene, and email was just a misspelled word on your spelling test. Look at us now: students are toting ipods as fashion accessories, chatting it up using im, using the internet as a phone, and self publishing using blogs (I do find it amusing, however, to note that the first webpage I ever created when I was 16 is remarkably similar in format to the blog format, without, of course, the ability to leave comments and trackbacks). Even as I am writing this I am finding that our tech cannot keep up with the changing dynamics of all things social software. Words such as blog, trackback, podcast, and webpage all come up as spelling errors in all my current word processing tools (even Pages, which you would think would be way too cool for that!).
The point of this digression is that we are teaching using outmoded, outdated tools and thought processes. I still find it archaic to use a chalkboard, although sometimes I just would like to go to a single room with desks and a chalkboard and some books to see if I could really do it (whatever it is…). How does a digital native feel walking into a classroom with a chalkboard and being told to put away their ipod, cell phone, palm pilot, portable dvd player, insert the latest gadget here? It must feel bloody awful! We expect students to learn and engage in learning while at the same time expecting them to put away the tools they use to communicate and learn:

‘Forget that Stanford now has free podcasts available to any with net access and that we could download lectures from the Dalai Lama (but what a thought: wouldn’t that go great in itunes along with u2 Bob Marley, and Jack Johnson?) Put the bloody ipod away and listen to me give a lecture on peace and nonviolent protest!’

The irony here is deafening.
My disjointed, rambling thoughts for now. Check out McIntosh’s post, it is brilliant.
A chaser to this post: the other day I was discussing portfolio delivery options with my literature students and I mentioned the possibility of doing podcasts… you could hear the crickets chirping in the background. None of them knew what a podcast was, even though the local news has been touting that you can download their broadcasts as podcasts from their website at the end of each airing, even though local radio is now doing the same…seems once again that the digital native is not as prevalent as I might think. I was amused to learn that I was on the cutting edge. For now…


7 thoughts on “Teaching Old Tricks to New Dogs…

  1. Ewan

    The world is a whole lot smaller. I find it amazing that I posted this initial entry about 15 minutes ago, and your response is here already….amazing.

    Thanks for the mention of the follow-up post. I will check it out when I grab a minute (and some coffee….)


  2. James, I had the same experience with some of the terminology and students last year. One student in three classes of 30 knew what a podcast was – maybe educators are better at naming and tagging terminology while the kids might just say, “Oh, that’s what you call it?” Kids in my Year 5/6 last year (11/12 year olds) wuld talk about MSNing each other in the evenings while us oldies (or geeks) might call that Instant Messaging.

  3. Graham,

    I agree with your idea that students don’t necessarily ‘name’ the terminology they wield…Most are familiar with downloading mp3’s and tote the ipods or spinoff mp3 or mp4 players, while they don’t know what a ‘podcast’ is.

    I guess it is the actual guts of the application that matters to them, as opposed to the label on it (although the popularity of ipods and their slick packaging would suggest otherwise)

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