This week’s reading reminded me of one of my favorite TED talks. I have linked to it below.
What is the importance of reimagining education, or taking school outside of its traditional buildings? As the above video, along with this week’s reading by Catherine Davidson and David Theo Goldberg emphasize a move towards collaborative learning. Interestingly, their book, The Future of Learning, was a collaborative project where anyone could participate in the book’s creation and processes of editing. This aspect of publication is very interesting to me because it destabilizes the hierarchy of expertise. No longer does one have to be a member of the academy, or a professional level expert, to contribute to a project. Moreover, the limitations of age and geography are also negated. As Davidson notes, there is no way to tell whether the contributions made to the book were made by a twelve year old or by a professor at some university. Thus, contributions are judged solely on their usefulness, thoughtfulness, or depth.
The Future of Learning also touches on something that I have found very useful in my instruction–Mobile technology. Many of my students have utilized Twitter and Facebook to communicate. More recently, they migrated to Snapchat and Vine. I have allowed my students to utilize Vine to make a six second instructional video. It took a great amount of prior planning for the students because they had to be very selective about what made it into the video. Vine also allows people to record very short clips and link them together (but everything has to fit in six seconds). The Vine project allowed students to translate 3 pages of written instructions into a six second video for the world to see. Since Vine only exists on mobile devices, it allowed students to collaborate on the project in various places around town.
Davidson makes another important observation about mobile devices, and that is the issue of access. Many students do not have access to computers at home. The local cable company, Comcast, provides computers to homes of families who receive SNAP benefits, but this program is not widely available, and does not address impoverished people in rural areas, or people in other countries. More people in these areas do have access to mobile phones, however, and the mobile nature of online education allows people who would previously not be able to learn about topics, or contribute their knowledge, to join the community of learners and scholars. In an article for “Inside Higher Education,” Cathy Davidson is quoted by Colleen Flaherty as stating,
“quality and access not only can go together but must. A system that only admits the privileged is impoverished. Everyone learns better when systems are open. Everyone is shortchanged when learning happens only among those who share the same background and same values.”
The learning experience is not as rich as it could be when access issues prevent everyone from participating. An educational system that adapts to include those who only have access to mobile technology, or can only participate on the Internet, is better off because collaboration leads to more questions and more informed answers. When I was teaching in a high poverty, urban, school all of the students had to share the 30 odd computers that were in the “computer lab” were the computers that had become too problematic for teachers and administrators to use. These computers, obviously, had multiple problems and could not even open Internet browsers sometimes. This situation is diametrically opposed to the situation I found when I began working in a wealthier suburban school district in a town that houses an elite public university. Students there had access to computers that they could take home (even though 98 percent of them had home computers), they had tablet access in the classroom, secure Wifi in the classroom, and each room had Smart Boards. The students in the suburban district had a richer, more diverse, educational experience because I could provide them with access to materials outside of the classroom. We looked at materials housed in the the British Library online, watched Youtube videos, browsed twitter, and looked at various websites together. When the education system is structured like this, the students who receive an enriched instructional experience get to experience the world in a very different way than my students from the urban school district, and that just is not fair to them, or to society. I grew up in a school district that lacked technological access as well, and saw many of my peers not live up to their potential because they did not have access to the same means that others utilized to express themselves.
Davidson’s text also makes interesting observations about the changing definition of literacy. Children learn how to navigate computer games at younger and younger ages, and this form of literacy should be both fostered and utilized. I did not learn how to really use a computer until I was in elementary school, and even then, my school only had two very old computers. My daughters, however, knew how to navigate technology before they even went to kindergarten. My three-year-old nephew can find the games he likes to play on the iPad. My twelve-year-old daughter knows how to modify her worlds and characters in Minecraft, she communicates with children around the world on Roblox, and talks with her friends on Xbox Live. How is this not literacy? Davidson argues that it is a literacy that educators need to pay attention to and use in their instructional practices.
The TED talk I mention in the beginning of this post is a step forward, but to achieve real change across educational practices–societal changes need to be made to bridge both the access and achievement gaps.