I was running a session today for the HWDSB Commons, our new blogging platform, with a small group of elementary teachers. Very early on — during this lunch session — the question was asked by one of the participants: Is this mandatory? I immediately said no. In an industry where it seems that something as ancient as checking email cannot be “mandated” (some schools still operate with small cubbies and coloured paper notes carefully trimmed: ticket-sized to save paper) it would be impossible to require something as futuristic as blogging. There is some logical push back here. Education is also the only industry I have ever worked within that seems to infer that computers are a necessary tool, and yet fails to supply one to its rank and file. Imagine this scenario in the corporate world? Imagine hiring someone to work in an office, and then telling them that they have scheduled access to a computer once a week; it’s down the hall in a separate room, and you share the approximately 30 computers with 300 other users in the building. When I worked as a Publicist for one of the larger Canadian-owned, Canada Council-funded Publishing Houses, they supplied everything they felt I needed to do my job, right down to the Rolodex; and Publishing in Canada is a cash-strapped industry. Even as a Server in a restaurant, I needed access to Google to fool the oenophile into thinking I knew the differences between St-Julien and Margaux (I expect those who have no idea what that last sentence means have now paused to Google it themselves; do your students have that privilege when they read something they don’t understand).
So of course if someone were to ask me if teaching anything that required computers that don’t exist within a large number of our instructional spaces was mandatory, I will respond in the negative.
But how I wanted to say “yes”. Because this hesitance from my colleague was not one based on a dearth of technology within the school. It was not based on a frustration with the guerrilla strategies sometimes necessary to outfit a classroom with a bank of recycled computers, running Ubuntu, constantly needing some form of repair during lunch hours rather spent in the staff room. It was an “I’m-not-very-technical-and-I-get-how-to-email-but-I-don’t-Facebook-and-this-sort-of-thing-is-beyond-me-and-I-don’t-get-why-it’s-important” hesitancy. And to that reticence, I want to say yes.
- Yes we need to be teaching students using present century technology
- Yes we need to teach them how to own their digital footprint early, because it will overcome their physical footprint in this digital world
- Yes we need to teach students how to navigate social networking sites, because your local pharmacy is probably on Facebook already, and education shouldn’t be the only industry that doesn’t recognize that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are overtaking traditional entertainment and news-gathering organizations in scope and reach
- Yes because if we keep saying no we will lose this generation that is already being heralded as one with a shorter attention span and a need for immediate video-game style gratification
- They will not be engaged in essay-writing unless it is a topic they can share with their You Tube channel audience
- They will not colour maps when they can walk the streets of Rome through Google Earth
- They will not understand the value of a multiple choice test that their phone can answer for them
- They will not accept that there is only one way to meet your expectations when they are presented with a plethora of web 2.0 ways to share their perspective, their knowledge and their beliefs, with a seemingly captive audience
When I was 16 I wanted to be a rock-star. Somewhere in the dark reaches of a basement box are the 4-track recordings of an adolescent with Eddie Vedder illusions, banging on a guitar for no one. Now those tracks would be on You Tube or My Space or Soundcloud and the possibility of becoming a Rebecca Black, a Justin Beiber, would be — although improbable — further away from the absolute impossibility of fame for that younger me of 1991. I was content to live without an audience in ways that this privacy-scant culture will not abide.
Let this not be seen as an attack though, on that teacher who decided to attend that optional lunchtime session, and when told “no” to her query, did not get up to leave, but stayed to learn. I do not assume that we all inherently understand this world in which our students live; but I know we see glimmers of it. Take a Superintendent’s iPhone away for day (these devices aren’t allowed in a number of our schools afterall). Take a principal’s laptop away and see if they can function without consistent access to email. We live in a digital world where every industry is plugged in. Is it mandatory for our learning spaces to reflect the realities of the world? Yes. We can’t teach students how to thrive tomorrow using yesterday’s tools.