My Reflections on RCAC 2009 – Part One
David Jakes – Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype
Yesterday was the RCAC conference in London and I must say that it was an amazing learning opportunity. It was also great to meet many new people, see some familiar faces, and put faces to online identities. The collaborative aspects of conferences such as these are invaluable. I have always bemoaned the fact that sharing in education is not as prevalent as it should be. Our goal (as educators) is the same – teach kids. It is my strong belief that we owe it to our students to find the best possible ways available to engage them, not only in curriculum, but in social and transferable skills that will benefit their life journey beyond the walls in which we teach them. In fact, I now use the term “walls” loosely and was quite fascinated by the first keynote speaker of the day, David Jakes (http://jakesonline.org, http://jakes.editme.com/). His presentation, Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype, Focusing on What Really Matters, was both high energy and thoroughly engaging (http://jakes.editme.com/hype). His one rhetorical question: “What is possible for the modern-day child?” is easily answered by: “What isn’t possible.” The student’s have so much to teach us in their own right.
The sheer number of young people engaged in social networking sites is awe-inspiring. Jakes mentioned that children today have a lifetime of social networking capability. This is ours to harness. Check out some statistics on virtual worlds, virtual goods, augmented reality and 3D gaming at http://kzero.co.uk/.
Jakes also introduced us to Smart Grid – Augmented Reality, AR Business Card, and Urban Spoon – iPhone app. New innovations and technologies arte being developed everyday. How can we harness these as tools of education for our students?
Jakes asked, “What do these kids know? Have you talked to them?” This question is the key. So often, I believe that we, as educators, get too caught up in curriculum and “tried and true” methods and forget that these new students have completely different skill sets than the students of ten years ago. Gosh, the internet wasn’t even created when I was in high school. I did research the “old-fashioned way” – card catalogues, baby! My research was limited to what we had in the building. Today’s students have no limits. Jakes mentioned the idea of teacher as filter, and I can completely relate to that. As he mentioned, students may indeed be more socially connected than we were as children and more “hyper-connected…the bad news is, that’s all they are.” Today’s student needs to be taught how to assess the vast amounts of information that’s out there and how to analyze them critically. They use a small amount of resources a lot, but need to be able to transfer those skills to other similar, or diametrically different devices. That is our job as educators: help to filter, and teach the students how to filter, and to use the technology that it out there effectively and efficiently. This ideology is no different than the old-fashioned tool box and the need to find the right tool for the job. Today, there are many digital tools out there. Finding the right one for the job can be a challenge. This, Jakes continued, is where we, as educators, need to help the students to understand the concept of a digital footprint, what they are leaving and what they have left.
The idea of “collaboration as new literacy” is also fascinating. Collaboration has always been a focus (i.e. group work), but the concept of it has drastically changed. I learned this a few years ago when I incorporated blogging into my Media Studies class. The blog platform provides students with an opportunity to explore ideas and topics in a non-threatening environment where they can share images, links, videos, and ideas. The sharing then becomes interconnected and far more dynamic than sitting around desks in a classroom. I also found that students tended to not work collaboratively F2F (face to face), yet “wasting the period” socializing. Interestingly, the ideas did indeed pour out in the blogs later in the evening. So, was the period indeed wasted socializing, or were they just preparing themselves for where the true collaboration would take place, out on the web? The collaborative learning space for students is the internet. This is their “water cooler”. It is where they feel comfortable – it’s what they know. Now, we could begin a discussion from this point on whether the increased socialization of the “Open World” (RE: “The World is Open” by Curtis Bonk) has led to a devolution of F2F social skills (but I’ll leave that for a later discussion). See also, Daniel T. Willingham’s book, “Why Don’t Students Like School?”, it is a great study by a cognitive scientist that traces some of these aspects and how the human brain is actually set to learn.
Jakes discussed a Physical Learning Space and a Digital Learning Space, whereas the traditional teaching and instruction could take place in the classroom and then the students could carry that teaching over into their learning space – the digital (blogs, wikis, Google Apps., etc.). This, “around the water cooler”, approach is interesting and really helps to frame a context around using technology, not necessarily as the end itself, but as a means of developing the core skills so often agreed upon by educators: Communicate Effectively, Literacy, Numeracy, Visual Literacy, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Metacognition, etc.
I will end this first reflection with the questions asked by Jakes:
- How do we rethink the dimensions of schools?
- What is your vision of the types of skills needed to be considered well-educated in today’s world?
- How will those skills translate into the habits and disposition that will last a lifetime?
- What five core skills do you think are essential for students today? What tools could you use to get there?
- How will you incorporate new and evolving technologies that support the development of literacy and numeracy?
It is an exciting time to be an educator and, at times, overwhelming. For many, these concepts are brand new and the incorporation of new technologies can be intimidating.
In my next post, I will list some of the more interesting and effective Web 2.0 tools discussed at RCAC and some ideas for how you can use them in the classroom.