This post is what I would have written as a comment on Nicholas’s post Listen2Learners: 1 but it got a bit big. So is this post.
The following lines of his post sparked my attention
I impressed upon Peter the extent to which the online world of web 2.0 is one in which people are just doing it for themselves, with all the tools available for free online – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, widgets, mashup platforms like Google Maps and on and on. And that doing things like building mashups on Google Maps or learning stats by competing for Dream Team points could really turn kids on.
But I went on to say that the worst thing one could do if one agreed with what I was saying would be to spend time and money skilling up teachers to teach this stuff. They wouldn’t want to – or many wouldn’t and they wouldn’t be any good at it.
I suggested instead that those students who were enthusiasts could teach others, and spread things that way.
This is educationally a good idea for lots of reasons. Students tend to perform better at things they think they are good at, for one thing. Students whom teachers think are bright also tend to come up to the mark, no matter their starting point, for another. Being picked out to teach other students suggests that the teacher thinks you’re bright.
Vygotsky, the educationalist, talks about ‘zones of proximal development’ by which he means roughly that the things the other students around a learner are doing profoundly influences that learners view of what is learned and capacity to learn it. The approach of students teaching students enhances the creation of ‘zones of proximal development’, so it’s a good there as well.
In addition it has certainly been my experience that teachers can be very disinterested in Web 2.0 applications, or indeed software for learning.
However, I also think this observation of Nicholas’s falls into what I think of as the ‘Prensky trap’.
The ‘Prensky trap’ obscures the question of what it is that students are doing that enables their mastery of Web 2.0 that teachers don’t do or don’t have access to, and what it is that teachers do with teaching that students don’t have access to.
Prensky was the author of the idea of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’.(1) (2) The ‘Prensky trap’ is to think there are two kinds of people.
Now most theories that suggest there are ‘two kinds of people’ get attacked on the basis that the idea of two kinds of people is both simplistic and divisive. This has certainly been the case where other ‘two kinds of people’ divisions have been examined.
The origins of feminism lie in systematically demolishing the idea that men and women were two kinds of people, Humtington’s “Clash of Civilizations” was roundly attacked by Edward Said on the same basis and Prensky’s assertion that in the world of the internet there are two kinds of people, the ‘digital native’ and the ‘digital immigrant’ has also been subject to similar criticism.
For example, Bennet et al (3) argue,
“It is claimed these young people’s use of ICTs differentiates them from previous generations of students and from their teachers, and that the differences are so significant that the nature of education itself must fundamentally change to accommodate the skills and interests of these ‘digital natives’ (Prensky, 2001a)…. though such calls for major change in education are being widely propounded, they have been subjected to little critical scrutiny, are undertheorised, and lack a sound empirical basis. “
There has been a long argument around the issue of ‘binary oppositions’ in critical theory, structuralism and post structuralism, which suggests either that it is a form of cognitive bias we have to live with which makes us happier if we divide stuff around us into a thing and its opposite; or whether a crisp distinction between categories is a useful analytic tool. So my impulse is to complicate these binary categories on the argument that the world is a complicated place.
It is also true that reifying people into ‘two kinds’ suggests that this is how they are and there is little that can be done about it except to avoid the ‘wrong’ kind.
My interest here is in Prensky’s claim, also because he has pervaded the zeitgeist. As a result of his binary opposition, we understand students to be techno savvy and to be pushing boundaries and laggard teachers to be holding back educational progress.
Bennett et al again, on Prensky.
“He claims that this section of the population, which includes most teachers, lacks the technological fluency of the digital natives and finds the skills possessed by them almost completely foreign. The disparity between the technological skills and interests of new students and the limited and unsophisticated technology use by educators is claimed to be creating alienation and disaffection among students”
Counter to this it is argued, (4) (5) first, that there is some evidence that first year students don’t deal as well with online aspects of education as do people, including teachers, who have been working with it for a while.
Second, according to the ALTC study, (5) students are more interested in technology for information gathering than for learning and tend to prefer face to face interaction.
These are significant criticisms but I believe we should also look at how and with whom teachers and students spend their Web 2.0 learning time.
Students firstly have some discretionary choices about whether to get involved with Facebook and Twitter and the like. They also have time to practice or they steal time from when they should be doing their homework. They learn how to master Web 2.0 tech in an intensely collaborative atmosphere, often physically looking over each other’s shoulders or passing mobile phones back and forth. They are absolutely merciless in letting each other know when they think one of them has committed some kind of online faux pas. And most important, students rehearse and rehearse through what is effectively play. Two very important features fostering distribution of cultural practices are in my view, imitation and practice. Students can, through copying and play, do both of these with ease when it comes to Web 2.0 learning.
Now think about teachers. Hmm, yes, they don’t look over each other’s shoulders. They rarely sit on trains in groups passing iPhones back and forth. In fact they end up, through time pressure and social expectations, pretty Balkanised. Learning how to use technology for them is an exercise of sitting alone in front of a computer screen frustrated because the thing won’t do what it said it would and you can’t understand the ‘Help’ instructions because they use language which is different from how you think about the problem, so you don’t understand what it means. (What is about:config again? Where do you find it? Someone said you could change privacy settings in Facebook but where the hell do you do it?).
Imitation in groups is not available as a learning tool. Playing is out of the question so practice is pretty short on the ground. Teachers have no zone of proximal Web 2.0 development.
Teachers however do, or should, bring one thing to learning that students don’t. A pedagogy or at least a sense of what should be achieved. If Web 2.0 tools are going to be used for teaching something content driven and not just for their own sake then you need a clear idea of what that something is, and how you will achieve it using these tools. This means, in fact, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the various Web 2.0 tools for teaching purposes; no mean feat.
The best example I have come across of this was someone who used email and discussion groups as an adjunct to face to face teaching not because it was new technology and not because it was mandated by her school , but because it slowed things down. She was concerned that in the role plays she was running, students were not stopping to think and read before they made an intervention so she shifted to running her role play online because asynchronicity made reading before responding possible.
The same thing can be said of blogging. I certainly don’t talk like I write! Blogging makes you slow down and think things through. It gives you an opportunity to look things up, should you choose to use it this way.
My point though is that she would not have thought of this unless she had been an alert teacher. A student showing someone how to use Facebook is passing on technical and online social skills but not pedagogical direction. She on the other hand was able to detect what are sometimes called the ‘affordances’ of the technology. ‘Digital immigrants’ have their uses.
So by all means get kids teaching kids but know what part of learning they can enhance and don’t neglect forming ‘zones of proximal development’ for teachers so they can guide students and select software which best enhances their ultimate pedagogical ends. And avoid hidden assumptions about ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’.
(1) Prensky, Marc. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon (Emerald) 9, no. 5 (2001a): 1-6.
(2) ———. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 2: Do They Really Think Differently? On the Horizon (Emerald) 9, no. 6 (2001b): 1-6. doi:10.1108/10748120110424843.
(3) Bennett, Sue, Karl Maton, and Lisa Kervin. 2008. The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology 39, no. 5: 775 – 786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x.
(4) Ellis, Allan, and Diane Newton. 2009. First year university students’ access, usage and expectations of technology: An Australian pilot study’. In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2009. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). http://epubs.scu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1141&context=tlc_pubs.
(5) Kennedy, Gregor, Kerri-Lee Krause, Karl Maton, Andrea Bishop, Rosemary Chang, Jenny Waycott,, Terry Judd, Kathleen Gray, Sue Bennett,, and Barney Dalgarno. 2009. Educating the Net Generation: Implications for Learning and Teaching in Australian Universities. Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC). http://www.altc.edu.au/resource-educating-net-generation-melbourne-2009.