Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mashing Up your Camp

It seems that I have been getting beaten to the punch by so many people lately regarding issues that I have been pondering lately. I can take solace in the fact that some fairly incredible minds are the ones one-upping me, so I am not losing sleep over this. However, when it comes to things that I see daily and try to find my own solutions to, it helps to read about a similar issue on many different levels.

I am coming to believe that our future lies in the idea of a mashup. That's a dichotomous statement; the students of today and tomorrow, also the consumers of today and tomorrow, are going to rely heavily on the ability to customize their web by taking the best parts of the apps they like and combining them into the services they need. The step taken by Yahoo Pipes is but the tip of the iceberg. Yahoo has made it increasingly easy to mash up your feeds into a multi-level search for highly specific information. The mashup for moms" cannot be too much further behind. The other side of the statement reflects something that George Siemens pointed to recently in his blog: the idea that teaching and technology can not be mutually exclusive any longer. Further, that allegiance to one over the other leads to a dangerous conclusion, regardless of the camp you are in.

For too many, technology is seen as a means to replace lectures. So, we have traditionalists standing up and saying "technology removes engagement...what we need is charismatic lecturers". This same myopic view is seen by technologists - eliminate all lectures, make everything self-exploratory - give the learner complete control, let them choose their own learning. The inability to think holistically is the key fault of both camps. News flash: to traditionalists: technology isn't going away - the toothpaste is out of the technologists: technology tools won't be adopted without critical reflection...your attempts at conversion are as narrow in focus as those you are criticizing. And, the part that sucks, is that at various times, I have been in both camps.

Here are also some quotes I have heard from teachers in my building lately:

  • "Sometimes they (students) just want to sit there and listen to you lecture."
  • "Any chance to get out of there seats and move around, they take it and you've lost them for the day."
  • "This kid here would never answer a question in class, let alone get into the book we are reading, but put him on the wiki, and he won't stop."
  • "I haven't seen this girl talk about her work in any way this year, until we let her design buildings using Sketchup."
After reading George's post, the connection to his thoughts was immediate. You can't sit in one camp and criticize the other for same faults. Pots and kettles here. Connecting students to relevant material that alters forces teachers to alter their perceptions of who the students are, makes both sides "mashup;" lecturers who seek participation are going to see less and less of it as time goes on, regardless of how charismatic they are, unless in the follow-up they have allowed the students to continue the discussion asynchronously outside of the classroom. No amount of showmanship will make up for the need to connect with like-minded learners (see Princeton). The first quote is correct: sometimes students don't need to be flying about your classroom working collaboratively, but we are mistaken if we don't give them that opportunity outside of the 40 minutes we might see them that day. Reflection is something that new technology allows students, and especially reflection with collaboration. Check out our AP Language wiki if you want to see that in action.

Jeff Utecht remarked not so long ago, that "it's just hardware," and I have made mention of this several times over the last month or so. Perhaps it is a not so subtle reminder to myself to see it from the classroom teacher's perspective, whose sole purpose in that room is to find and use tools to help the students learn. But more importantly, we need to see technology in classrooms, or lecture halls for that matter, for what it is: an avenue to reach our learners in an engaging way. Nothing more, nothing less. If it takes technology to get your students to conceptualize, to collaborate, and to network, then we shouldn't hesitate out of fear--we should become the learners ourselves.

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