I sometimes teach outreach computers-for-beginners classes through our schools continuing education program and I recently had this exchange with one of my night students:
Student: “I mean, computers are great, I’m here to learn how to use them. But I don’t think they belong in school.”
Me: “Really? Why not?”
Student: “Well, look around…” (our school is a tablet school) “… I just worry. They’re all just staring at screens. That’s what everyone does nowadays. They just stare at screens. They’re not doing anything.”
It was hard for me to hold back at this point. I beg to differ, I screamed inside my head.
Instead of screaming, however, I politely shared that in my experience as a teacher, my students actually became more engaged and more motivated once they had the right tools in their hands. That having the computers was far better than the days when they sat passively like bumps on a log staring up at the board. Not doing anything.
But I don’t think a lot of people really know what school is like. Or used to be like.
As adults, we are all quite able to groan and complain about a professional training that has us sitting like bumps on a log, even if that training lasts a mere 90 minutes! Consider how some students must feel, their days stretched out to six hours of sit down, listen, sit down, listen…
Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li are market researchers who have compiled significant stats on how the American public is behaving online and codified that behavior in a new report, a summary of which can be found here: Social Technographics: Conversationalists get onto the ladder. In the business world, this data can be used to convince a boss, for instance, that investing marketing dollars into social media is probably a wise bet. That it’s time to get on a board with a comprehensive marketing plan that includes online, participatory venues.
Though their work doesn’t take into account the online behavior of children, (for that, I recommend checking out Danah Boyd’s work as well as a volume she recently co-authored, Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media) I think we, as people interested in education, can take a look at Bernoff and Li’s ‘Ladder’ graphic and use it as a lens for viewing how students behave—and could be behaving—in school.