From literacy to digiracy

I ran across an interesting article, From Literacy to Digiracy, in The Economist (hat tip to Angela Maiers). Here’s the money quote:

For anyone under the age of 20, the world being experienced is one where the internet has always existed, and where everyone who matters is only a click, speed dial or text message away. “Tomorrow’s adults,” says Mr. Federman, “live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity.” Their direct experience of the world is wholly different from yours or mine.

So, no surprise that when we incarcerate teenagers of today in traditional classroom settings, they react with predictable disinterest and flunk their literacy tests. They are skilled in making sense not of a body of known content, but of contexts that are continually changing.

I love the use of the word incarcerate. It sums up so well the listless, bored, apathetic students that are prevalent in all too many of today’s high school classrooms. As others have noted, it’s awfully difficult to be a passive information consumer once you’ve had the opportunity to be an active content producer.

Could be a good article to share with administrators!

17 Responses to “From literacy to digiracy”

  1. Jobs that don’t incarcerate employees within an office are rare.

    I had linked a relevant post, but html comments aren’t allowed. Here’s a piece from USA Today you’re probably familiar with. Read this before you read the next paragraph.
    http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/12/our-gold-star-w.html

    How students develop in the classroom will profoundly affect how they perform in the workplace, and we do our students a disservice by changing how classrooms work until the workplace — not the outside world — changes along with it.

    http://awaitingtenure.wordpress.com/

  2. Frankly, I don’t think that snarky editorial from USA Today has much to do with the topic at hand. Self-esteem is related how?

    As for digiracy, this is a heavily undervalued skill in K12 education. Our students will not work in information economy jobs that do not include access to the Internet as a tool. Why do we still pretend that knowing the right answer in a narrow range of topics (punctuation and grammar, spelling, social sciences dates and names, maths, and science facts and trivia) is a more valuable skill than being able to FIND the right answers on a broad range of topics?

  3. We have to come to terms with the fact that technology is making a certain model of teaching obsolete. What is that model or archetype? The sage on the stage as the giver of knowledge. One of my teachers actually refers to himself as the giver of knowledge. Take history for example. Facts, dates, and other info is bountiful on the net and only a click away. I’d argue a 5th grader with google could manage a 3 on the AP test without ever taking the course.

    The teacher if not the giver of knowledge then has to help bring out the connections and help the students see how events, philosophy, culture are all related. This means a different approach. If teachers don’t like being ignored they will find irrelevancy even worse.

  4. @Jeremy – knowing has not changed. It is still more cost effective to know something than to find it, although that gap is quickly closing. Knowing some basic math, for example, is easier than finding and using a calculator. Even while blogging, how much does the spellcheck really help you? Answer: Some…if you first use another program, then spellcheck, then cut and past, then post. Seems like someone who can do it right the first time may save both time and energy. Having a conversation with your boss? Wouldn’t it be nice to have knowledge that may prevent you from saying, “I is sure doing some big work here, so you prolly should contempemplate an intercrease in my saladry.” Unless I’m missing the boat on the new “speech check” software out there, this will not likely land you a raise. Some information can be effectively found, but the concept that those skills aren’t encouraged and taught really just blows my mind – do you think this is the typical approach?

    I don’t mind challenging the status quo, staring ourselves in the face realistically, or questioning our methods, but it seems that we are really promoting conversation after conversation that basically says little more than, “we don’t like school.” “If only we could spend all day on the computer, we’d be so much happier and better consumers, learners, and people. Why can’t we just do that?”
    Sorry, in a game of “buyers” on the topic, I’m selling.

    My viewpoint is also different than thinking we incarcerate “the listless, bored, apathetic students that are prevalent in all too many of today’s high school classrooms.” Being in and around the educators of today, I think we can be proud of the challenges laid before students in a supportive environment, which encourages them to continue to learn (Scott also has a nice post on this under Mini-Golf and Learning).

  5. Marshall, what did you learn in school that helped you become the person you are today?

    Basic math – elementary school.
    Basic grammar and spelling – elementary school.
    Basic computer skills – elementary school.
    So that’s a pretty good argument for the utility of elementary school. Now how about, say, past the 5th grade?

    “All day on the computer”…funny how you say it as if that’s somehow more claustrophobic than eight hours a day treated like a prisoner with most of the time wasted in a typical school setting. For the record, I think that technology CAN be a “magic schoolbus”, taking kids to places they would otherwise not be able to go, interacting with people who would not likely visit their school. Even better, it can be used to individualize instruction so the teacher can be the helper and guide rather than the enforcer and the Source.

    How about we spend part of the learning day meeting standards (at our own pace), part in free exploration (perhaps under the guidance of a mentor), and then part of the day playing, reading, engaging with peers and adults and learning the way humans are programmed to do? What exactly is the goal of formal schooling again, and how we doin’?

  6. *sigh*

    I had a longer screed here but lemme just say instead that metaphors from the school system to the penal system kinda leave me with a dry mouth and a bored stance. C’mon, School 2.0. C’mon c’mon c’mon.

  7. @Dan: are you telling me that you didn’t daily see a lot of listlessness, apathy, and/or boredom in your school’s classrooms (yours excepted of course!)?

  8. @Marshall: that question for Dan was meant for you too!

    [and if either of you say no then you're either liars or you're in some of the most exceptional secondary schools in the country]

  9. No, I’m not saying that. But /the metaphor/ is hypo-rational and hyper-emotional, serving better to characterize the School 2.0 stock argument than the truth in our schools.

    I keep waiting for the rhetorical balance around the edtechnoblogosphere to tip in favor of bottom-up solutions, the kind that will make an impression on your teacher-as-warden. C’mon, School 2.0. C’mon c’mon c’mon.

  10. @Dan: I wasn’t trying to make too big a deal about the analogy. Just that the imagery associated with the word ‘incarceration’ evoked imagery common to bored students in class.

    Are our students intellectually constrained and restricted in class? Absolutely. Has it always been this way. Yes, in most classrooms. Are many (most?) secondary students bored at least half the time in school? I’m betting yes.

    So you don’t like the incarceration metaphor. Fine. But where’s your usual willingness to speak truth?

    Oh, and why do you think a bottom-up solution to anything will scale to the level needed for widespread change / impact? We don’t have much evidence of long-term substantive change in K-12 schools ever bubbling up from the bottom (because of administrative / structural factors), do we?

  11. I guess I just wonder who profits anything from this rhetoric. For example, does it inspire the teacher-as-warden to better herself? Does it inspire administrators? Does it inspire policymakers?

    The edtechnoblogosphere has a big stick but I’m still wondering after the carrot.

    I’ll single out two edtech specialists here, Patrick Higgins and Kim Cofino, who, from my very weary perspective, do excellent work, recognizing how much more challenging it is to inspire teachers in their practice than to browbeat them, how much more satisfying it is to help them own their own transformation than it is to trade articles back and forth and embolden an echo.

    You have a lot of carrots around here, yourself, Scott. I’m referring to the imbalance between sticks and carrots ‘net-wide. Thanks for the food-thought. Leaping on a plane now.

  12. Incarcerate. It sums up so well the listless, bored, apathetic students that are prevalent in all too many of today’s high school classrooms.
    Just wonder how many teachers feel they are incarcerated also. Wanting to teach and instead having to discipline.
    Wonder how many administrators feel incarcerated. Wanting to be educational leaders and having to manage everything instead.
    Lets take a look at the world of work. How many people feel they are incarcerated. Wanting to contribute and having to keep a job because of pay or insurance.
    Seems like a much larger picture.
    So what do we do about it?
    Well lets start with what we know, teaching.
    Teachers need to enjoy teaching. The times I have learned the most from a teacher it was not so much the content the teacher knew but the thrill the content brought to the teacher. How can we keep teachers engaged? So many things need to be overcome, regulations, testing, paper work, discipline, just a start. Can we do it right away or next year,no, but we can start. Every little thing helps, (collaboration time, duty free lunch, encouragement). If technology is a part of this then let teachers have time to learn and develop the skills and lessons.
    Can technology be the only source for this escape from incarcenation, no. We need to remember that technology is not how teaching begins and it is not the cure all.

  13. @Jeremy
    With only a few tweaks in philosophy, I appreciate and agree with your concept of teaching being represented as “…part of the learning day meeting standards (at our own pace), part in free exploration (perhaps under the guidance of a mentor), and then part of the day playing, reading, engaging with peers and adults…” If you look at an active high school day, I think you will see this more than you may believe. My only real tweaks are based in that these concepts should intertwine and weave to the point of being indivisible and coexist in the learning process – and – it can be differentiated, but not paced at the will of the student.

    @Scott – Clarification may be necessary to some degree here – in an attempt to avoid the “liar” title. In my personal learning, I experienced some of that boredom in HS, but not nearly as much as in my undergraduate courses. Next jump to my graduate program and it was probably less boredom, but with specific coursework in my profession and career area, it was amazingly irrelevant (not quite dangerously, I believe). All of that was really pre-internet or at least pre-popularity and common access. My current programming attempts to engage, but I can’t say that it is all that different. As for the teachers I work with, I believe they understand the need to intertwine some of the above approaches and work with a full student, not just a data manupulator. Obviously some better than others, but beyond ANYTHING I experienced as a student at any level.

    Dan’s statement of hyper-emotional is maybe as close as I can come to my personal thought. When we move too far to one side of the teeter-totter, the fun is over, so it’s still about balance.

    Jeremy, you asked what I learned in school to help me today and then gave good credit to my elementary years. I did learn some basic math and language skills in elementary, and this created an excellent foundation for me – computer use was 0. High school allowed me to learn who I was, actually use that Apple IIe to program in BASIC (sorry digital natives, that one is a step beyond grunting around the cave fire), interact with lots of individuals both student and adult, experience music, athletics, activities, and FAIL in all of them while finding successes. Really I have to say that my experiences were (although not created by me 100% of the time) pretty good in stretching my skills. Oh yeah, I did have to do some of the content things too.

  14. Ok, I’ve already blabbed too long, but I just re-read Tina K’s comment, and it got me thinking about what jobs are often like. I must admit that if we are preparing students today to be leaders of tomorrow that love their jobs, give everything they have every day, are committed to the success of the organization over personal gain, etc., then we are failing miserably! Maybe that is why we call it “work” and not “play” and why sometimes it is like incarceration in that we have expectations and requirements to stay employed with that organization. I’ve come to question several times if the employees in today’s world understand frequently that they are producing for the organization, not that the organization is providin a position for them so they can be happy in their own lives. Much tounge in cheek, overly generalized and encompassing, and hyper-emotional, granted, but not really far from the “entitled” workforce I see in today’s marketplace.

  15. It is because I felt incarcated in the classroom that I made the step away from the ‘chalkface’. If I’m feeling that way, being a teacher, how much more so the students.

    But trying to build a job that is ‘free’ is very difficult to do… That is another reason why we need to arm our students with the skills and knowledge base to feel confident to address this way of working in their futures.

  16. I think all who are interested in this discussion should read A Whole New Mind by Pink. It has some great points and is a great read. It truly changed my thinking. Given the proper search skills is essential as needing to know “things” is becoming a thing of the past. It is to “know how” that makes you a valuable commodity in the “real world”.

  17. I could not agree more that we are disengaging students in classrooms today and in fact, incarcerating them. We are taking students that are able to be producers of knowledge and making them be dis-engaged consumers of facts. I can only hope that schools can develop and learn to use technology and Web 2.0 tools or I fear what the future holds for our schools and students.

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