We Are Learning To: Make a difference

Late last week I decided to throw my carefully crafted-lessons on cyber-citizenship out the window and floated the idea to my class of making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the Education and Science Select Committee.

I taught my class a bit about what a select committee is and why they hold inquiries. I also pointed out that most of the members grew up in an era where learning looked like students sitting in rows listening to the teacher. And then I posed a problem, how to change the committee members’ minds about learning.

The kids seemed both excited and a bit worried about the idea of the project. Making a difference sounded great in theory, but that would mean producing work for Members of Parliament rather than their usual teacher audience which was a bit scary and not just for the students. The kids wondered if children were allowed to do something like this? Would if were able to get out submission finished by Friday? One student even wondered if they might get arrested.

Despite the risks, the class decided that they wanted to make submission and it should be in video form rather than a text-based one. They wrote scripts and designed storyboards. The students used our classroom’s new ipod touches to full effect by not only filming and editing their segments, but also using green-screening and augmented reality to convey their message. In short their submission not only articulated their vision of learning but through their efforts they also showed that 21st century learning is already a reality in some New Zealand classrooms.

I still have no idea how this project is going to turn out. I can make judgements about changes in my students thinking and attitude towards the project,  yet I have no control over the final outcome. It could be nothing, it could be something incredibly good or bad. I put our learning out there to be judged and with that comes the real risk of public ridicule.

Sure I took a risk but it is easy to forget that everything we do (or don’t do) carries a risk. For some kids their only experience of e-learning in school is limited to a few closed-off forums and lectures about staying safe online. Offline citizenship is so much more than children having a firm grasp of crossing the street. And the consequences of narrowing our ideas of cyber-citizenary down to merely messages of safety is that we ignore the potential that the internet has to enable students to participate in wider society. Those digital walls that we put up to keep risks – both real and imagined – away also stop kids perspectives and voices from getting out into society.

Sure my students need to learn to look both ways before crossing the digital street, but the point is that the kids participated using the technology they were talking about. They had an authentic audience and project they asked questions, made recommendations and learned how important it is to have a voice. Sure some might argue their recommendations are unworkable and unaffordable Perhaps they are. But in order to make something a reality, you must dream about it first.

My question is how do you come back the next week? You ask students to rock the world then ask them to turn to page 27 in their maths books and complete exercises 1-4.

It seems a bit of let down.

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