Our Classrooms are Leaking

[Another version of this article was posted on 2¢ Worth in August of 2005]

Pamela Wheaton Shorr, editor of The Heller Reports’ Educational Sales and Marketing Insider, contributed a piece for the recent Scholastic Administrators, Take Control of Tech.  The abstract reads..

Schools across the country are waging a war against technology tools gone bad. Read how some districts defend their classrooms against the new school thuggery—from iPod cheats to cell phone punks and sneaky Web surfers.

After some reasonable advice from Will Richardson, the author goes on to describe “horror stories” that include inappropriate uses of mobile phones, digital cameras, digital cameras on mobile phones, MySpace, poorly filtered school networks, and MP3 players.  Absolutely nothing new here.  It’s an old story.

OK, so our kids are connected. But it isn’t the technology that they connect to.  It’s the information.  We often talk about how small the world has become.  But on a personal level, our children’s world is probably larger than for any generation of youngsters ever.  They are accustomed to commanding a global digital library, mixing selected content and publishing it on their social networking sites, in collaboration with or for the benefit of friends who may well live on other continents — though that is not always clear, as the geography really doesn’t seem to mean much to them.

A Different Species of LearnerIt is almost as if our children are a new species, with info-tentacles, reaching out to connect their gigantic world through their cell phones, IM, massively multi-player online role playing games (MMORPG), social networks, text messaging, and their MP3 players.  They’ve spent the summer with open access to each other, open access to content, open access to schedules as they practice their weird rhythm  of working until four in the morning and then sleeping until 1:00 PM.  No limits.

Now they are returning to school, which is almost entirely about limits.  We contain them in classrooms.  We contain them with schedules.  We contain their access to each other — “No talking!”  We contain content inside the covers of textbooks and the walls of libraries, and when we give them access to the Internet, it is so highly filtered that even teachers are frustrated by the valuable content and applications that are blocked.

These tentacles that have sprouted from our children are not visible.  We can’t see them.  They can’t see them.  But they are a part of our children.  They are the hands and feet that take our children where they want to go.  And they enter our classrooms, and we chop their tentacles off

…because we want our children to be the students we want to teach,
rather than teaching the children that they are.

I know that this is not simple.  I know that neither we nor our children are ready to open it all up.  We need time to work it through.  We need to figure out how to channel valuable learning through our children’s tentacles.  But I suspect that within the next five years, our children are going to have every reason to expect to walk into their classrooms with their iPods, their handheld computers, their cell phones, and their laptops — that limiting their access to information will seem almost unpatriotic.

We have only a few years to figure out how to channel learning and what kinds of questions to ask, when our children are bringing Google with them to take their tests.

The more that we try to contain the learning experience, the more our classrooms will leak!

17 thoughts on “Our Classrooms are Leaking”

  1. David,

    I would also add that not only are the connected to information but more importantly to each other. The focus on information is important but as educators sometimes we discount the social connections as frivolous or somehow less than academic. And while there are elements of this at play, I think the recent use of twitter among so many may help us to understand better the need for combining social connections with learning connections. Students want to stay connected with each other.

    I’ve been saying for a while that the day is basically here when a student could choose to do all their school online. So my question to schools and administrators has been: “What will your school offer that would make a child choose you over an online education?” The answer must lie somewhere in social connections. Not simply extra curricular or other non-learning interactions but in learning that requires true collaborative and social interactions that will involve face to face and virtual connections. This is the real challenge for our schools.

    P.S.I’ve still got the original article in my starred list.

  2. >>…within the next five years, our children are going to have every reason to expect to walk into their classrooms with their iPods, their handheld computers, their cell phones, and their laptops…>>

    I will boldly say that within 5 years, we won’t be able to “lop off their tentacles” as the technology will be embedded in their clothes — and who knows where else.

    Why fight it? We must adapt to them, not them to us.

  3. I agree Dave! We are the ones that need to change. Especially if we want to continue to engage our students. We MUST change our ways and use the tools that are second nature to these tech savvy students. I wish my network administrator would start reading some of these blogs! I guess I should let him know they exist!!!

  4. Great post! I often wonder why we are still testing kids’ ability to remember great wadges of stuff when (a)the world is full of technology that means they don’t have to, and (b) the pace of progress means that the material they remember could well be obsolete by the time the test comes around. (Shakes head sadly)

  5. Dave,
    You are perceptive in your comments. I like the image of chopping tentacles off because it’s violent. And I think that what we do in schools to try to change things so we can control them is violent, in a way. We used to provide a school e-mail account for all of our students. But now, only freshmen, and I am lucky to have it. There were kids abusing their privilege. I don’t really know what else went into the decision to cut off these tentacles–I was told it was too expensive for all students. But my feeling is that the few ruined it for the many. And email use by students faded away mostly because no teachers, except for me, complained. Keep vigilant Dave. Yours is a welcome voice in the darkness.

  6. I think it is important to remember the censorship of internet sites and removal of some technology devices in schools (phones/ipods/etc.) is to promote learning rather than hinder it. I have used Myspace and I must say the educational value is minimal. The restrictions provided by schools and teachers are not to conform them into a generic student model that has no thoughts or opinions. They are to keep children safe and on task. Computers can be a great resource, but can also be a distraction to learning or have inappropriate sites that should not be viewed in or outside of school. It is a teacher’s job to foster discussions that help the students to grow as people and learners. It should not be dismissed how much can be learned through people sharing their ideas and thoughts on topics.

  7. Very important idea, excellent points made. It is difficult, even today, to find a middle school, high school, or even college student who is not connected to some type of social network, whether it be Facebook, Myspace, etc. And what kid doesn’t have a cell phone or iPod? Extracurricular technology is coming into the classroom, whether welcomed or not. To ignore or ban these feats of technology and phenonmenons of social connectivity is difficult, but will only become increasingly difficult. I think that instead of trying to cut off the “tentacles”, maybe instead we should grow a few ourselves to find out how they work and what good use they can be put to. Technology used in this way should be viewed as an opportunity. Students will always come up with new, inventive ways to cheat and frustrate teachers, but maybe if we know what we’re up against, we can be better prepared.

  8. I agree that a child’s world today is a lot larger than any generation of children in the past. Techology plays such a huge role in children’s lives today, so much more than it did even just a few years ago. They are exposed to a lot more because of all they have access to with the internet, and are probably quite a bit more proficient at using techonology than we were at their age. Technology can be a great tool if used correctly. As teachers, we should encourage the use of technology in positive ways by implementing it into the classrooms in many different forms.

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