Friday, March 2, 2007

Student Choice

I sat in a high school history class the other day to help them with a digital story project on the War of 1812. Their teacher had approached me regarding giving them some choice in completing the project. Maybe it's my naivete, maybe it's the zeal with which I approach technology as a digital immigrant, or maybe it gets at what Jeff Utecht said the other day:

We have truly educated the creative side right out of our students. They don’t want to have to think about it, they just want to fulfill the requirement that is being asked of them and move on.

Half-expecting them to eat fire in order to choose the digital story option, I was shocked to find that only about half of them are choosing that option, with the rest of them putting their timeline on posterboard. While the dynamic is slightly different than the one that Jeff talks about, I truly was shocked by the non-choice of technology.

Is that more with me? Guilt lies with me sometimes, and I often feel foolish at times, when a teacher I am working with points out that I am using technology just for the sake of technology. For instance, the age-old PowerPoint debate. What skill is being learned from a bad PowerPoint presenation? More often than not, though, what we are promoting has new relevance in our curriculum, and there is open debate that at this point, any use of new applications and technology can be construed as positive. The reactions I am getting lead me to ask one thing:

Are our students as reluctant to change as some of our teachers?

The sense that I was getting from the three classes that I was in was that I was pushing something that was either passe to them, or that I was giving them such shift from the regular expectations that I was being tuned out. I make it sound disheartening, but it wasn't at all. Rather, it has forced me to reflect on what exactly is the meaning of engaging to our students. It might be naive to think that giving them options that include technology will solve the problem of learner motivation.

As with everything we do, it comes down to the quality of the design of the project, lesson, or task that we present to the students. That, coupled with a truly captivating instructor, will work every time.

Wes Fryer's notes from Marco Torres' presentation at MACE offered some insight into faculty attitudes towards technology. He categorized them in three ways:

  • "yes, ands"- the eager adopter

  • "yes, buts"- the skeptical adopter

  • "so whats" and "no ways"- the Luddite

If we had to categorize students, could we do something similar? Jeff's post, and my experience in classes the other day point this way. So what would we call them?

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