In this talk from RSA Animate, Sir Ken Robinson lays out the link between 3 troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. An important, timely talk for parents and teachers.
Three years ago, Dr. Michael Wesch was one of the key people whose work inspired the vision for Media 21 (post 1 and post 2), an initiative that has resulted in a deep collaborative partnership with English teacher Susan Lester and her 10th Honors World Literature/Composition students and consequently, collaborative partnerships in varying degrees with other faculty who have incorporated some of the strategies Susan and I have utilized.
I rarely point people to specific articles through my blog (I use Twitter and Scoop.it for that purpose/sharing), but I think this article, ”A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working“, in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a must-read for all instructional librarians and teachers; even more powerful and insightful are Wesch’s additional reflection in the comments that I’m going to quote and repost below. Wesch’s comments resonate with me because of Wesch’s emphasis on:
1. The relationship between students and teachers (and as I’ve shared in presentations in the last year, the idea of libraries being about the human experience and relationships being the cornerstone of libraries)
2. The emphasis on learning communities (also central to my philosophy of librarianship)
3. Planting the seeds for learning spaces to be sites of participatory culture
4. Using social media and technology to amplify the possibilities for authentic learning, not for the “wow” or “shiny” factor
5. His acknowledgement that not everyone finds a menu or use of technology empowering and that our focus should first and foremost be on infusing strategies to encourage participation by learners/students in multiple mediums.
As I have shared more extensively via blog posts in the last six months, Susan and I (as well as some of my other faculty) have encountered pushback from students in varying degrees over the last two years. Some of this comes from a fear or a previous negative experience with technology; consequently, as Susan and I have evolved as teachers and learners, we’ve given ourselves permission to scale back and introduce/utilize technology tools more selectively in response to our students’ needs since our work is first and foremost rooted in this concept of participatory learning. ”Why are you doing this?” is the question we are continually asking ourselves, and for me, I’ve given myself permission to more critically examine practices that might be successful in one learning environment but not in another.
For many students, the pushback we’ve experienced is rooted in adjusting to a learning environment that requires their active participation to think critically as an engaged member of a learning community who inquires, shares, and creates. Helping students work through this discomfort is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we encounter as we try to honor that uneasiness while trying to find ways to scaffold our students and support them as we try provide encouragement and grow their participation literacy. We’re always tinkering with our pedagogy and strategies as we try to be reflective practitioners who know there is no magic solution that works for all students and that creating a participatory climate of learning is ongoing, organic work. Too often we look at what others are doing and perhaps get the impression that a specific approach that is successful for one teacher will be successful for everyone else, but the reality is that crafting this participatory learning environment isn’t always the seemingly perfect “unicorns, fairies, and happily ever after” success we expect it to be. If I’ve learned anything, though, in the last year, it’s to embrace the cognitive dissonance that comes from what we may expect to transpire in a participatory learning enviornment and the actual reality of how that plays out with a particular group of learners. By giving ourselves permission to tinker and yes, fail, I have become much more comfortable with really listening to the story that is in that dissonance and to ask the hard questions, to have the courage to take risks as a teacher and learner as we try to disrupt the testing culture that has so permeated classroom life in public schools, a culture that unfortunately has cultivated learning environments that often encourage students to be passive receptacles who acquiesce their curiosity and what Wesch refers to as “wonder“.
By keeping the concept of participatory culture and learning at the center of our work, I think we are able to craft richer and more meaningful learning experiences for learners of all ages that ultimately help cultivate traditional and emerging literacies needed to fully participate in today’s world. While instructional literacy isn’t always sexy or what grabs the attention of many administrators, professional publications, or colleagues, I find it infinitely fascinating and at the heart of my work as a librarian and educator—I hope Wesch’s comments will help us all take pause and revisit the essential question of “Why are you doing this?” as we make pedagogical decisions about how, when, and why to embed technology as our paintbrushes to paint a larger canvas of learning. I hope these are the kinds of conversations that we’ll have more of in library world as we engage in discourse about our mission, our practice, and our future.
Since there doesn’t seem to be a way to hyperlink to Wesch’s comments as a follow-up to the original article, I’m going to repost them here for your reading and reflection:
It might be interesting to know a little background as to how this article came about. Jeff called me to discuss an upcoming presentation he is doing at SXSW facing the provocative question of whether or not lectures are dead. I think I surprised him a bit by actually championing the lecture, and pointing out that more participatory classroom methods can actually be bigger failures than lecture if they are not approached appropriately. I later clarified to him in an e-mail, “My main point is that participatory teaching methods simply will not work if they do not begin with a deep bond between teacher and student. Importantly, this bond must be built through mutual respect, care, and an ongoing effort to know and understand one another. Somebody using traditional teaching methods (lecture) can foster these bonds and be as effective as somebody using more participatory methods. The participation and “active learning” that is necessary for true understanding and application may not happen in the classroom, but the lecture is just one piece of a much larger ecosystem of the college campus. An effective lecture can inspire deep late night conversations with peers, mad runs to the library for more information, and significant intellectual throwdowns in the minds of our students.” (this echoes many of the thoughtful comments here) I’ll also note here that what makes Chris Sorensen so effective is the way that he seems to deeply understand who his students are, and where they are at in their understanding, so as he is lecturing he is able to trigger the right kinds of questions and thinking patterns that allow them to reach an understanding of physics … that’s what I meant when I said that he is “by their side, walking them through the forest of physics.”
To be clear, this is not a recent change in my thinking. Starting in 2008 I started highlighting the importance of purpose, significance, and the creation of learning communities (bonds between teacher and student, as well as among students). However, I have recently realized how buried that message can be in a presentation that is otherwise dazzling with technology and the ways in which it empowers students to connect and collaborate with people all over the world and produce work that they can take pride in knowing has significantly altered the way people talk and think about certain topics. (Our Anthropological Introduction to YouTube is perhaps one of our greatest successes in this regard.) My reboot is not so much a reboot of my thinking, or even my message, it is simply a reboot in how I deliver my message.
Within the broader ecosystem of a college campus, not everybody needs to jump on board with participatory methods and teaching with technology. But everybody does need to be on board with the goal of creating an environment in which a rich participatory culture of learning can grow. Part of that environment can and perhaps even should involve magnificent mind-bending lectures delivered by masters of their craft like Chris Sorensen.
Not everybody has to teach with technology, but it does need to be deeply embedded throughout the ecosystem we create on campus – and not because “that’s what students want” or “that’s where the students are.” The surprising-to-most-people-fact is that students would prefer less technology in the classroom (especially *participatory* technologies that ask them to do something other than sit back and memorize material for a regurgitation exercise). I use wikis, blogs, twitter and other social media in the classroom not because our students use them, but because I am afraid that social media might be using them – that they are using social media blindly, without recognition of the new challenges and opportunities they might create. I use social media not only as an effective teaching tool that encourages participation, but also as a way to broaden the media literacy of our students. In this regard, we still have a great deal of work to do. We need to embed new media literacy more deeply into the curriculum so that it isn’t just this “one crazy Anthropology class” (as I have heard my class fondly referred to by students) that showed them how they can effectively use these tools in ways they had not yet imagined, while also allowing them to see a little more clearly how these tools are using them, altering their habits, sensibilities, and values as well as the larger structural contexts in which they live.
If you’re interested in conversations for learning, I’d like to invite you to add EDU180ATL to your favorite RSS aggregator. What is EDU180ATL?
The mission of the edu180atl project is to nurture and encourage the spirits of those who love to learn, to connect learners across disciplines and settings, and to deepen the national conversation about education by enabling parents, students, and educators to share stories of what they are learning every day.
This site represents a month long beta test of the full scale project we hope to launch in August 2011.
I’m honored to have shared a post this past week, “Listening to Your Heart”, and I encourage you to read the insights, stories, and questions others are contemplating about education and learning.
Dear Mr. President:
Once I again I take keyboard in hand to compose an open letter to you in response to comments from your May 9 Hampton University Commencement speech. In this speech (prepared remarks and then the actual transcript), which I first became aware of via an article at Mashable this afternoon, you make several remarks that trouble me as an educator and as a librarian.
In this first passage, you comment on social media, mobile computing, gaming, and the transformative power of education:
And meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.
Class of 2010, this is a period of breathtaking change, like few others in our history. We can’t stop these changes, but we can channel them, we can shape them, we can adapt to them. And education is what can allow us to do so. It can fortify you, as it did earlier generations, to meet the tests of your own time.
First, the real problem here is not information itself or the devices in which people access it, but instead, the core issue is the fact that too many people lack essential information evaluation skills that are relevant for today’s information landscape. Secondly, information and the gadgets are like anything else—people have the free will and choice to use them in a positive manner or a less than positive way.
I also find it incredibly irresponsible for you to label devices like iPods and iPads as instruments of “distraction” and “entertainment” that are not capable of “empowerment” when you admit within the speech you don’t know how to work these gadgets. If you do not truly know the capabilities of these kinds of devices, then how can you make this broad sweeping statement that not only is erroneous but also reinforces existing negative stereotypes about mobile computing? Are you aware there are apps like Evernote which I’ve been teaching my students for social bookmarking and notetaking as part of their research for anytime, anywhere learning? What about news apps, like Associated Press Mobile or the free Kindle for iPhone/iPad/iPod for reading books and magazines? Have you seen this list of apps for those with special learning needs, the 100 Most Educational iPhone Apps, Time’s top 10 back to school iPhone apps? Have you explored what this community of educators is sharing about using iPod Touches in the classroom?
As Clay Shirky so aptly pointed out, “The problem is not information overload. It’s filter failure.” If you have not been taught how to discern the quality information from that which may be unreliable or frivolous, then I can see how you might perceive devices like iPods and iPads are gateways to distraction. However, the answer is not bashing these devices and dismissing them as a stumbling block to this challenge. Instead, these devices can be an integral tool in helping people filter and focus on the information that really matters for their information needs. Misinformed assessments like the ones you convey in your commencement speech spawn hysterical anti-technology conversations instead of meaningful, thoughtful conversations about ways of teaching people how to harness the power of these tools and the information they can provide.
Next, I do agree with you that we as a society can adapt to the changes in the information landscape. However, “education” in and of itself will not prepare today’s students to effectively deal with this plethora of information and know how to properly evaluate it if your October 2009 call for information literacy to be privileged as a mainstream and essential literacy along with reading, writing, and math is not answered. Instead, we need to provide students a comprehensive education in K-12 that positions not just information literacy as a mainstream literacy but embeds transliteracy, the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks, across all content areas. As information and learning specialists, librarians are one of many stakeholders in the educational ecosystem who can scaffold students’ abilities to access, evaluate, and transact with information through multiple mediums.
In October you stated the following in your proclamation:
Though we may know how to find the information we need, we must also know how to evaluate it. Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise.
Honing the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment is an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably. Knowing how to put together intelligence dashboards, news radars, and information filters from online tools like persistent search and RSS is the external technical component of information literacy.
Many librarians are already teaching Rheingold’s concept of “infotention” to help learners effectively evaluate and manage the dizzying streams of information around us. In fact, I have been teaching these skills to 10th graders this past year at my school library. What librarians need is the ability and resources to scale these efforts to reach more students so that they know how to deal with the sea of information you cite and to learn how to manage it using cloud computing tools, mobile apps, and information management tools. These kinds of efforts can also help learners explore concepts of social scholarship, which can address your concerns about “…so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. ” We as librarians can function as sponsors of transliteracy by helping people know how to evaluate the authority and credibility of a blogger, of a YouTube video, or of a stream of Tweets.
However, how do you expect institutions like libraries—public, school, academic—to effectively and broadly answer this call when funding for library personnel and services are being slashed across the country at all levels? Your proposed federal budget does not include any funding to help compensate for the shortfalls or to supplement funding that has been lagging for years for libraries, especially school libraries. Did you know that in many states, school libraries are operating without fully certified and highly qualified school librarians or that many school libraries do not have a full-time school librarian? Or that many schools expect one librarian to serve up to 2800 students with no assistance whatsoever? How is “Race to the Top” genuinely addressing these challenges? How can we talk about information literacy as a mainstream literacy when it is barely assessed on standardized tests that dictate what is taught in many schools?
In your October proclamation of National Information Literacy Awareness Month, you conclude:
An informed and educated citizenry is essential to the functioning of our modern democratic society, and I encourage educational and community institutions across the country to help Americans find and evaluate the information they seek, in all its forms.
I completely concur with your position as do institutions like the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and scholars like Dr. Deborah Brandt. Recommendations Six and Seven from the Knight Commission both call upon libraries and schools, as you do, to help provide instruction on these new literacies so that all citizens may have the cultural capital needed to participate in today’s society and to help close the existing participation gap that is the real digital divide. Dr. Brandt, author of Literacy in American Lives, shares the following observations about the importance of our current transition from traditional literacy to transliteracy, which encompasses the new media literacies:
We know from history that changes that are introduced into literacy and communication rarely result in changes in the social order–the routes to access and reward for new literacies will take predictable forms that favor the already privileged. Also, as in the past, even obtaining high levels of technological skill and experience will not inoculate people against discrimination by gender, race, class, age, or other sources of stigma. But this means that our democratic institutions (schools and libraries particularly) have to work hard and thoughtfully to mitigate these forces. The gaps are complicated. One big gap is generational, creating problems in schools where older teachers struggle to keep up with technologically innovative students. We have to find better ways of allowing young people’s skills developed outside of formal institutions to flow more regularly into school. We have to make sure schools and libraries invite critical and active uses of media that strengthen our democratic potential. Wouldn’t it be great if people could go to their school or public library and get into conversation (by video conference or by internet) with people from all over their society and their world? This is certainly a period when educators and librarians and others could really re-imagine education and what is possible with new technology to distribute access and reward more equitably and to make sure that these incredibly powerful resources are used to better people lives and increase our capacities for democracy and justice.
I can’t say it any better than Dr. Brandt—it is imperative that all students everywhere have as much access to information as possible. For many students, lack of broadband access at home or high-speed Internet in their schools in one challenge. A lack of a qualified librarian to act as an information sherpa to teach them the navigation skills they need is another major barrier to this kind of literacy Brandt envisions. Filtering policies in schools and public libraries also lock down the possibilities for quality information access when they cannot Skype with an expert during the school day with their peers and teachers or watch a quality YouTube video that could completely transform their understanding of an issue or topic they are researching. Most school districts prohibit the use of devices like an iPod touch or a smartphone, which seems ridiculous when these students are coming to school with a tool that can function as a mini-computer for research and learning; for some students, these devices may be their primary point of access to information, so why not teach them how to harness the power of the technology as well as the information? When you make dangerous statements labeling these devices as gateways to distractions and irrelevant to real learning, you are exacerbating the participation gap and hindering the very effort—an informed citizenry with equitable access to information–that you champion.
In a little over a month, I—along with thousands of other librarians—will be in your backyard as we come to Washington D.C. for the 2010 American Library Association Annual Conference. I will be in town from Friday, June 25 through Tuesday, June 29 , and I am offering you my services to show you these kinds of tools and skills I have shared in this letter to help you better understand not only the possibilities for evaluating and managing information streams, but to also provide you a personal learning experience as to what librarians can do for the citizens of this country. As a librarian who subscribes to a participatory philosophy of librarianship, I invite you to come join me in conversation so that we can learn together. I, along with my librarian peers, would be honored if you could join us in the Networking Uncommons for some fun and informal learning with cloud computing as well as gadgets like iPhones and iPads. You have an opportunity to model lifelong learning for the citizens of this country by joining us at ALA.
You took an important first step last fall with your proclamation of National Information Literacy Month in 2009. Now is the time for you to take the next step by rethinking some of your statements and by taking action to provide libraries, librarians, and educational institutions the resources we need to mobilize and broadly implement your ideas so that the vision of an informed citizenry can be realized for everyone, not just a privileged or lucky few. By formulating and implementing a plan to embed transliteracy as an essential literacy in our libraries and educational institutions, you have a historic and unique opportunity to shape the course of this country by recasting and amplifying the power of education.
We need bold action and leadership from you to help truly realize the possibilities for a democratic society in profound ways—that is the kind of change we can believe in. Are you willing to be a catalyst for this kind of change? The invitation is on the table.
Sincerely and respectfully,
Buffy J. Hamilton, Ed.S.
Creekview High School
buffy.hamilton at gmail.com