Last night, my school district sponsored a REALLY cool community-wide conversation to kick off a strategic visioning session designed to imagine what our schools need to look like in order to prepare today’s kids for tomorrow’s world. The keynote speaker was David Houle — self-described futurist and author of Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K12 Education.
Many of Houle’s thoughts resonated with me.
He argued that the ubiquitous screens we carry around are changing our expectations for physical spaces — a case that I’ve made before here on the Radical. He also rightfully nudged us to create more creative, collaborative schoolhouses; emphasized the need for a clear vision before we got neck deep in planning; and suggested that global challenges needed to play a larger role in the work our kids do in classrooms.
He lost me, though, when he pushed the notion of digital immigrants and digital natives on the audience.
His language was all too familiar: Today’s kids are savvy. Today’s teachers are not. Fixing the problem depends on our willingness to put kids in charge of technology in our schools. At one point, he even asked all of the teachers under 30 in the audience to raise their hands. “There’s your future,” he said.
Write this down: Labels like “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” — and the connotations that they carry — do more harm than good in conversations about changing learning spaces.
On the simplest level, they create false assumptions about proficiency: The olds can’t POSSIBLY understand how digital tools can be used to create engaging classrooms, right? They can’t even figure out how to create a contact or set up the speed dial on their new iPhones. Put ’em out to pasture and turn the classroom over to the kids and we can FINALLY revolutionize education!
They also place the focus of conversations about future classrooms on technology instead of on learning outcomes. That’s a distraction, y’all. Proficiency with new digital tools and spaces ISN’T a goal worth celebrating even if it is easy to identify. Leveraging those tools and spaces to create meaningful learning experiences — learning experiences where kids master useful skills or tackle projects that change the world, or ask and answer powerful questions — is what REALLY matters.
Finally — as my buddies Paul Canceilleri and Brett Clark pointed out — calling teachers digital immigrants and students digital natives inadvertently lets teachers off the hook. “I’m just not tech savvy,” becomes a ready-made excuse for refusing to embrace practices that CAN make learning spaces more meaningful and efficient. But it’s an excuse that is reinforced every time that a futurist or visionary stands in front of audiences and argues that kids ALWAYS know more about technology and teachers are ALWAYS at a disadvantage in a digital world.
The truth is that no matter how savvy we think they are, today’s kids rarely see the power in the digital tools that they’ve embraced. Need proof? Turn ’em loose in a room full of technology for an entire day and watch what they do with it. Chances are their choices won’t impress you.
Moving them forward takes the support and guidance of people who understand learning — and who can find ways to use new tools to make learning more efficient and effective.
We call those people teachers where I’m from — even if they WERE born into a world without data plans.
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