So for generations we’ve been told that learning looks like this. A typical stock photo used by newspapers which shows a nice four corner room with 30 or so kids sitting at desks responding to an all-knowing teacher by putting their hands up
This design is based on a pedagogy that kids go to school to get information because that’s where information lives – inside the books and teachers’ heads. Students then stored that knowledge in the portable memory device they are assumed to have; their brains.
When I was 11 my parents got the family a set of encyclopedias which was awesome. Because now I had access to an amazing wealth of information right there in my house. All of sudden the information was a lot closer. I could fall asleep with it at night.
Fast-forward to 1996 and we get a computer with this funny thing called a modem. At a roaring 35kbs I was online and found all of a sudden that not only could access information but I could interact with it on usenet and bulletin boards.
This year I finally got an iphone which means I can take the information with me. All of sudden if I’ve got a question, like what kind of spider is that, I don’t have to wait until I go home to get the answer. I can find out the answer on the spot.
Yet the basic design of most classrooms is still based around the idea that students receive information from schools and then take it out to use in the real world. And I’m not just talking physical design.
When we look at the online spaces that exist for students in many schools we find those same four walls exist. Cellphones are banned, social media is blocked and we sequester our students off into closed online learning spaces.
In short we replicate the same physical design of our classrooms into our online learning spaces – Our students need to come to us to get the information. It’s safe, it’s easy but it’s based upon a model of information scarcity.
However there is a downside to all this information. inappropriate content and cyberbullying. In an effort to keep students safe from both real and imagined online threats, we put up walls. filters. Bans. But these walls also stop powerful learning.
We’ve known for some time that real learning happens when a group of people sit scratching their heads as they try to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. It’s in the very design of the buildings of the venue tonight.
Earlier in the term as part of our inquiry unit on cyber-citizenship, I asked my students if they would be interested in making a submission to the Education science select committee on digital learning. The answer was a resounding yes.
The students produced an amazing video submission which I placed on our classroom blog. Within a few hours Nikki Kaye, the chairwoman of the committee, had posted a comment thanking them for their work.
Was there a risk involved in such a project? Absolutely. But they pay-off was a more authentic experience and audience for my students. Because the flip side of walling our learning spaces off is that we prevent children’s voices from getting out into society.
Over the weekend I stumbled upon the story of 10 year old Martha Payne from the UK . Martha set up a blog to review her school-supplied lunch. The blog quickly went viral after a tweet from Jamie Oliver.
When local media, picked up Martha’s blog the school’s response was to ban Martha from taking photos of her school lunch which effectively shut down her blogging and online fundraising for a school kitchen in Africa.
By Friday Martha was globally trending on twitter as people tweeted their lunches in support. Martha is back blogging and has now generated more than $120,000 in donations for a charity that is building an African school kitchen.
Martha’s story demonstrates, active participation is an inherent part of internet culture. It is the audience who defines the popularity of an idea and in reality our students no longer need our permission to publish their ideas. They’re doing it anyway.
That’s both scary and exhilarating because what we are seeing is a huge shift in power dynamics between children and institutions in the digital age. No one needs to green light content that can be seen, and yes sometimes ridiculed, by an audience of millions.
Our educational institutions can not continue to respond by bans and assuming it’s business as usual. By embracing student voice and experiential learning schools no can be a place where kids can help change the world.
Because ‘let them use crayons’ is the 21st century version of ‘children should be seen and not heard.’