The following chart illustrates the extent to which we are all immersed in media, all day long. I grew up in a South Africa which did not have television until I was in my standard 8 year, and radio was the chief form of entertainment. Anyone here my age not listen to Squad Cars on a Friday night?
I first encountered computers at University and learned BASIC programming on an Apple, and later a ZX Spectrum, which was the first computer I owned. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go into a eulogy about the wonders of DOS or what it was like back in the old days listening to the moon landing on the radio! My 14 year old son is saving up all his pocket money to buy an iPad, and he just shakes his head at me when I tell him about the wonders of the first Apple Mac!
What I wanted to share, though, was a thought which struck me when I saw this chart, about Personalization in Education. Some digital interaction is social: the family watching television together, chatting online, tweeting a friend, posting a query on a forum, playing World of Warcraft with your friends, but a great deal of it is solitary, and it is this solitary leaning which worries most teachers. I am told that the kids coming through the primary school now are more isolated, have fewer social skills, and are, well, different.
There’s not an awful lot we as teachers can do about it either, although I feel we are going to have to re-think, re-design, and re-assess everything we do. We are going to have to teach reading, for example in a very different way. It might be pure accident, but my 14 year old son is an avid reader, and spends part of every day reading a book, an old-fashioned print book. My 11 year old son, on the other hand, seldom reads unless we force him. He just doesn’t see the point of it, I think. Both my sons are fascinated by biology, but whereas the elder one seemed to think it natural to learn it from a great big book we gave him, the younger one simply switches on the National Geographic Channel or fires up Google!
Now, every fibre in my being tells me that knowledge is a social construct. I see it as an ICT teacher especially. You can teach children how to use text-wrap until you are blue in the face, but they will only learn it when, for some reason, text-wrapping becomes part of their digital literacy needs. For that reason one class will use it, and another will refuse. It just takes one or two children to see a need for it, and suddenly the whole class is doing it. Anyone who tells you that digital skills are not a social literacy has never taught or thought about it enough.
We all applaud the affordances that digital technologies offer for personalizing learning, and everything we know about the brain and intelligence, and how learning is never static, and can occur at any time, supports the notion that people learn best when they get the right input at the right moment, and computers do that superbly.
But, it worries me that we will concentrate on building personalized, isolated digital learning opportunities, when what we really need to be doing is making sure that we create genuine collaborative and social learning opportunities.
Chart taken from Teaching the iGeneration by Larry D. Rosen