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New education

Posted by phourigan on April 26, 2010

The more I read, the more I shake my head.  Time after time I see articles, abstracts, papers, presentations and postings about teachers being the obstacle to new student learning.  The number one cited reason is Fear of Technology.  Here we have, at the very least, access to every single piece of factual information compiled by humans, and there are teachers out there who think their curriculum has no use for the device that bridges the gap, simply because of their own discomfort.

Not to mention that today’s devices give access to other humans in real time who are interested and enthusiastic about collaborating, exploring, sharing, experimenting, failing, problem solving, and REAL learning.  Why are we still memorizing state capitals or the periodic table?  (Quick quiz: What’s the capital of Missouri?  Did you have to look it up like I did?  Did you then stop and reflect that for the last thirty years I’ve had no reason to know this fact, yet could find it, as well as everything about the place itself, in under twenty seconds?)

I’ve been trying to think back on what I know about the history of education in this country, and I can’t come up with an analogue to the shift we’re experiencing (or not experiencing, as the case may be) right now.  In fact, I just looked up whether I should use “analogue” or “analog” in that last sentence.  A quick visit to Google answered the question, but in the meantime I viewed two pop-up Tweets via TweetDeck, heard the end of the Langston Hughes poem I was listening to (read by the author, no less), and received a reminder for my meeting that starts in ten minutes.

One of the best middle school classes I ever sat in on was a lecture about the (US) Industrial Revolution.  I didn’t have a whole lot of background knowledge on the subject, and as the teacher spoke I took out my laptop and began looking up various people, places and events on Wikipedia.  With one ear out for the teacher, I followed the Wikipedia trail as long as the thread held my interest, making connections that I never would have made just by listening to the lecture.  Then I started over with a new person or topic.  I didn’t feel like I missed out on the class when it was over; if anything, I had gotten more out of it!  I highly doubt a teacher would allow this process intentionally in class, but part of me thinks this is a great opportunity that we’re afraid to explore.

Don’t get me started on teachers’ attitudes towards Wikipedia.  Perhaps another time.


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