I have been fascinated by the variety of interpretations made of â€œA Vision of Students Today.â€ From luddite to Web 2.0pian, I have been called many things. I was willing to let this go for awhile, because the video has become a part of the ongoing rich and rewarding conversation about the types of students and learning styles we face today in the classroom and how we can change how we teach, adopting technology in smart and sophisticated ways that enhance learning and address multiple learning styles while avoiding adopting technology â€œjust for technologyâ€™s sake.â€
But there is one misreading that keeps popping up and interrupting this important conversation, so I think it needs to be addressed. This misreading has been best expressed by Gary Stager at DA Blogs who suggests the following:
â€œOne valuable lesson you should learn at university is that the world is full of people smarter than you and wondrous things to learn. This video and the mindless kudos afforded it make just the opposite point. Hey kids, you have cellphones! You’ve played Halo and excerpted someone else’s blog which in summarized someone else’s blog which excerpted an article on a magazine web site. Therefore, you are master of the universe and every educational institution should abandon scholarship, discipline and any text longer than a screen.â€
Gary is not alone in this interpretation of the video, so I need to accept that I could have done a better job editing the video and delivering my message. Perhaps it will all make more sense once Part 3 is complete and it is put together with Part 1 (Information R/evolution) as well. In the meantime, the following might clarify a few points.
The video starts from the classic point made by John Dewey: Students learn what they do. So, the video begins, “If students learn what they do, what are they learning sitting here [silently in straight rows facing a speaker at the front of the room?]â€
In the video I suggest that they are learning to sit in nice neat rows and remain quiet while the information / knowledge is delivered to them by an authority figure standing at the front of the room. They are learning to absorb knowledge from an authority, regurgitate that “knowledge” on exams, and follow along.
If students learn what they do, this is what they are learning, despite whatever the content of our lectures might be.
The signs held up by the students should not be read as â€œcomplaints.â€ They are more like confessions that give us a glimpse into their learning. The girl holding up the sign that says â€œOnly 26% of the readings are relevant to my lifeâ€ is not complaining. She is reporting a result from our survey.
By including this result, I did not mean to suggest that professors should only assign material that students think is relevant (and I agree that such a suggestion would be outrageous), but our job is to convince them of the relevance of what we assign. What do students learn from something they donâ€™t think is relevant? And what does it say about our education system that on average students report that only 26% of what they read is relevant to their lives, or that they only read 49% of the readings, buy $100 textbooks they never open, and have low attendance rates? One of our most important jobs is to convince them of the relevance of material they might not otherwise discover. Convincing them of the importance of our class is the first step toward creating an effective learning environment. Our classes and assignments are like gateways to new horizons, but we have to inspire them to step through those gateways, and we are failing.
Another common critique of the video is that I am not saying anything new. I agree, and included the quote from Marshall McLuhan in 1967 to demonstrate this. What haunts me is that McLuhanâ€™s words were published 40 years ago and we have still in large part failed to change the standard learning environment in any significant way.
But while teaching has not changed, learning has. Students are learning to read, navigate, and create within a digital information environment that we scarcely address in the classroom. The great myth is that these â€œdigital nativesâ€ know more about this new information environment than we do. But hereâ€™s the reality: they may be experts in entertaining themselves online, but they know almost nothing about educating themselves online. They may be learning about this digital information environment despite us, but they are not reaching the levels of understanding that are necessary as this digital information environment becomes increasingly pervasive in all of our lives. All of the classic skills we learned in relation to a print-based information universe are important, and must now be augmented by a critical understanding of the workings of digital information.
Some have suggested that any educational failings are the studentsâ€™ fault, and while that may be partially true, it is also true that different teaching techniques and educational situations can be effective in inspiring students, and it is our job as educators to explore what techniques are most effective and to try to generate new, more effective techniques. This includes adopting new technologies in ways that enhance student learning. In doing this we need to be careful. Since the invention of the chalkboard people have been claiming the latest technology to be the answer to all of our educational shortcomings (note the quote from Bumstead in 1841 at the end of the video).
As we think about the possibilities of these new technologies, we need to keep in mind that classic John Dewey point: students learn what they do. How can we recreate the learning environment in a way that encourages students to do things that creates the learning we hope to inspire? How can we create a learning environment that encourages students to ask critical questions and become adept at filtering, analyzing, and organizing the masses of information now penetrating our environment? And how can we inspire students to ultimately create high quality information and knowledge themselves? I see enormous potentials for new technology to help us in this regard. But I also see ways in which the technology could be used to reproduce and even magnify the failings we see in our education system today.
Gary concludes his scathing review of the video by saying, â€œA concerned competent educator might ask, “What should I do to make learning relevant without making it dopey or trivial?” This video offers no such guidance.â€
Exactly. While *this* video does not offer such guidance, the video is â€œto be continuedâ€ and stands as an invitation to discuss this question.