Last year, a middle school teacher commented that students wanted to share their stories “with the world” and so they wrote scripts, directed, acted, and turned their stories into a variety of ‘silent” videos posted to YouTube. Some question whether such videos count as a form of written assignment. However, the kids described what they did as not just a writing assignment, but as writing for an authentic audience. They saw their final work as representing a high degree of commitment to both quality of process and final product. As one young girl noted to me when I asked about using her video in a keynote, “This project took a lot longer than writing just a paper.”
Contemporary tools provide kids with learning choices that didn’t exist in the classrooms of our past. Even as transitions of “stick to quill to ink pen to pencil to keyboard” and “manuscript to printing press to digital book” have occurred over time, those transitions essentially resulted in the same output by learners – processing some version of print on paper.
Learning times are changing though.
With contemporary tools and access, today’s kids can create a range of projects from games to videos to image-rich transmedia projects as they pursue learning. The only limits to their work often happens to be the hours in the day and the commitment of their teachers to letting them use contemporary tools during school time – rather than forcing them to power down because of rules.
When young people “make” their own learning, it creates the potential for them to share personal collections and project work that emerge from their curiosity, passion, and interests. They become creators, curators, and communicators of learning, and develop ownership for what, how, and why they learn in school. Through contemporary tool use, they build their own learning pathways through work that’s important to them, rather than depending on a teacher to direct them down a path. They begin to process design as a way of thinking about what tools they choose – Pinterest, collage makers, Voicethread, Minecraft, blogs, wikis, Scratch, Youtube, Vimeo, photo sharing sites – to best portray what they want to share and why.
What are the implications for using contemporary learning tools that we need to consider as educators?
The role of teacher has never been more important to facilitating young people as they move into a post-Gutenberg mode to “search, connect, communicate and make” learning. The passivity of the old Gutenberg mode of “write, print, read, recall” demands far less of educators in terms of mindset changes than teaching for contemporary learning.
For our kids to use new tools for learning purposes means that we educators, regardless of age or technology skills, need to explore, discover, and experiment with those tools as well. We have to take risks, experience dissonance, and expect mistakes and failures as we try out new learning paths ourselves. As MIT’s Juan Carlos Mendez- Garcia indicates from his work, finding the “S-curve” of growth as a learner has the potential to both increase our confidence and competence in using new tools ourselves.
I believe, just as with our young people, we educators also are curious, passionate, and engaged in pursuing our own personal and professional interests. Our kids aren’t bored learners at heart and neither are we adult learners. However, the Gutenberg mode of learning creates passivity in us all. To see beyond that model, I push myself to both listen to what kids are doing as learners and to try out new tools myself. After all, if I’m not willing to put the time in to find my own S-curve and take on personal learning challenges, why should I expect that from anyone else?