Pieces loosely joined

iste2007.jpg   What follows is a random assortment, pieces loosely joined, from sessions that I attended at NECC.  I’m sharing these fragments here as a way of helping myself make meaning of them, and to invite discussion of these significant questions for schools, and for libraries specifically.  Feel free to share your thoughts.

Barbara Kurshan–from Curriki–

Linear versus random knowledge.  We learned in a linear fashion, page 1-60.  Our students are accustomed to a more random learning pattern–seeking what they need to know.

This is a fundamental shift.   Not only are students viewing information as more changeable and less “fixed” as we did, they think of it as more interconnected and randomly accessible and organized.     I do wonder if students really can learn randomly, but I agree that students don’t necessarily need to know how information is stored or organized anymore to “find” it.   They can use Google or keyword searching or tags, so it doesn’t make any difference how it is stored.   And the tools we all use now are primitive in comparison to what types of search capabilities they will experience in their lifetimes. 

Fari Ebrahimi — CEO of Verizon–

Speed of technology is changing everything.  To be competitive in the workforce, or just part of the broader social network, our students need to be able to learn to adapt to this speed.  He asks, How do you continue to educate yourself?  

How can we help students adapt to this speed?  Some of our students are very adept and this speed is a big motivator to them.   But others aren’t as good managing the constant flow of information; the technology makes them nervous, just as it does some of us.  How do we help those students feel more comfortable?  What tools can we share with them to help them manage this?  And how can we model confronting our own discomforts around the speed/pace of technological change for them?  Do we just block out the changes?  Do we try to learn some of the new tools?  Do we show them how we define our purpose first, and then choose the best tool for the job, second?

Doug Johnson–Director of Media/Technology–Mankato Public Schools

2 big understandings when dealing with the Net Generation–
–It will be easier to change the way we teach, rather than the way our students learn.  We can’t change a whole demographic group.
-Today’s students like to learn.   Like to learn by failing or by discovery.  They just don’t necessarily like what we want to teach and how we teach it.

I’ve also been thinking of a quote Joyce Valenza mentioned in her presentation on Information Fluency–a quote by Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia–that getting kids to stop using Wikipedia(or any site they prefer) is like trying to get them to stop listening to rock and roll.    All of this drives home the fact that we can try to “bar the gates” and “hold back the tide” in schools–but these efforts will ultimately fail.  Students will gravitate towards the tools that they find helpful and successful(by the way, just as we as adults do).   As educators, we should be out there at the forefront, trying to understand those tools with them, and to use our evaluative skills to help them be wiser users of these tools.

Mary Cullinane–from Microsoft School of the Future who came from education to Microsoft.  The norm of the environment at Microsoft was constantly questioning “how can I get better?”    She had time to think.    She wishes we had that kind of environment at schools.   Employees were encouraged to think.  They had gathering spaces to share.   No need to justify what you were doing.  Doing and thinking were the same thing. 

Create a school where failure is an option–where educators and students can fail.   Agree not to know everything.

Elizabeth Streb–Choreographer–Set aside what you know and seek a new solution.

This is a big hurdle for both schools in the current climate, and for teachers and students.  Teachers are generally those who did well in school.  So the idea of failing, or just leaping out there with something, may not come that naturally.   I also see that in many students–they are used to being achievers, used to being asked to conform to their school–so the idea that it is all right for them to try something and fail, and try again, just seems really foreign to them, and downright stressful.  

I was thinking of an article I read in February in a tech magazine(Business 2.0?) about a dot.com–the software developers were talking about their process–and the speed with which they would try out and discard ideas or aspects of their software.  Sometimes within days they would try something out, discover it didn’t work, and change it.

Now certainly it would probably be chaotic if a whole school did that constantly.  But I was thinking about this specifically in terms of the research process.  Do we really let kids know that it’s okay to go down a certain path, try out an angle, and just completely discard it or alter it if it isn’t working?  I’ve seen some of the best teachers coaching kids through that.

Kids (and teachers) have a hard time with this ambiguity.  Carol Kuhlthau in her description of the research process would say that it is one of the most difficult stages of the process–as students move toward finalizing and defining their topic and it is a period of the process that causes a great deal of stress.   How can we help them with this?

And how can schools nurture a culture where it is okay to float ideas out there, or to set aside what you know about the past, or try something new for a “trial period” and evaluate it?   (A trial period can be less than a school year, can’t it?  A semester?  A six weeks?)

Michael McCauley–Marketing–

“Seek out your cathedrals.”  Always seek a higher purpose because it elevates your thinking.

Tim Tyson–Mabry Middle School
When does meaningfulness start for our students? When they graduate from high school or college?  When they begin a family?  When do our lives assume a level of significance that really matters?

These two statements were really challenging ones.  Tim Tyson talked about that in the past, kids were contributing to the very survival of their families–helping on the farm, helping support the family–but that now they have a longer childhood, and we don’t always ask them to really “contribute” to the human family or acknowledge the possible value of their contributions.  

How can we in schools both honor what they already know, and ask them not to settle, but to believe in their own voice and to feel that there is value in what they have to say?

One of the great thing about some of the sessions I went to, like Women of the Web’s presentation, was that they asked the audience what their contributions were, or what they had to share–acknowledging that many people have expertise.   Are we asking for our students expertise enough?  In the research process, do I ask my students what they know or what they can tell all of us about their research tools before I share what I know?

One of the powerful things about web 2.0 tools is that it gives students the ability to project their voices, their contributions, out into the world.   What can we all do to help them make those contributions?–that is one of the core questions I walked away from the conference with.

Comments?  Thoughts?

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