Two Trick Ponies

In a recent network upgrade to SP3, we have also installed a ‘remote desktop’ application that allows us to control, monitor, screen share, file share etc., between IT Admin, Teachers and Students.

Observation of students in a real time activity – with zero lag over a gigabit network.

Today I watched a class who were obviously given some task that involved looking up the the term ‘topographic map’, which I can only assume they will need to know about to apply some where else.

Immediately 90% of the screens I watched did the following:

  • The Googled the word ‘topographical’ or some ‘topagraphical’
  • They then scrolled down until they found the wikipedia link to the word
  • Next the screen rapidly scrolled up and down – I assume that they were skimming for keywords.

They invariably went back to Google and click a few other links, and this activity carried on for a few minutes, going back and forth, skimming for keywords. When the students was faced with the stark reality that they needed to read some of the Wikipedia content, not just scroll and skim. On the whole, their internet activity reverted to messing about with iGoogle, and occupying their time. They seemed reluctant to ‘read’ wikipedia – over an above skimming.

This to me highlights the need for teachers to teach students how to ‘use’ wikipedia and produce far more detailed hyper text in their lesson contructs.

Just an observation – on the use of the internet in one instance, but it would be interesting to know if there are recent studies in ‘digital attention spans’ in the digital classroom.

Students are released into the activity – but is a serious mistake to think that because the appear to be ‘on the internet’ that they are ‘learning’. While ‘digital natives’ quickly learn to ‘use’ new tools, I would suggest that after an burst of activity lasting 5 minutes or so, many students are unable to sustain reading.

I am not surprised by this, after all, being able to ‘skim and trim’ from the vast amount of information offered to Educators is something I am guilty of – but at least I know what it is I ‘need to know’.

As we begin at my school the integration of ‘digital taxonomies’ into our curriculum, and as staff are beginning to get a better understanding of the ‘why’ or Web2.0 – it highlights the need for us to assist teachers in re-thinking lessons. One key memory I have when at University – was the advice ‘to prepare your lessons well’.

This now means that teachers need access, time and professional development in order to ‘prepare’ a lesson. Actvities need to consider that many students lack the ability to conduct any ‘sustained’ reading online.

One solution is to use Diigo to scaffold lessons. Diigo allows you to bookmark key resources you want to share with students, highlight specific parts of the page, and to use it’s ‘post-it notes’ facility to ask students questions and to lead their reading.

We simply have to accept that students will use wikipedia as their default fact-finding site. Some observation in the classroom may discover their actual learning activity. I suspect that many students simply dis-engage after a few minutes and only return to learning if they get a peer-tip-off.

Perhaps this is why many junior high school research tasks are handed in looking so similar. If we want students to undertake ‘wide reading’ then we need to make sure that we are offering them resources and then breadcrumb trails to ensure that it appears ‘do-able’ and that they see success.

A 3000 word wikipedia article may indeed by a superb, factual and well constructed text – but unless students can use it to an applied problem or context, then they will continue to skim, cut and paste.

4 thoughts on “Two Trick Ponies

  1. Great post Dean -must have been interesting watching their interactions with web pages. This is something most of us can’t do and I’d assume a lot of teachers would prefer to remain in the dark rather than address the critical issues it raises. Time is a factor which you’ve identified -we do need to spend more time in creating lessons but most of us are time poor in schools these days. You’ve got me thinking.
    Jenny Luca.

  2. Important factors to consider in the planning process:

    do the students already have the skills they need to achieve success, or do they need some explicit teaching;
    can the task be ‘chunked’ so it appears more manageable, especially to those who may be easily challenged;
    and does the context, information and other resources provide a suitable scaffold to support the students.

    Another question may be is the learning environment, the process to be employed, the output to be produced and/or the expected learning outcome/s appropriate for the students and the topic/task?

  3. Hi Dean

    I’m worried that if teachers do the post-its in Diigo and provide the links that students won’t learn the information literacy skills they seem to be lacking.

    I get that you want to teach them to use Wikipedia – perhaps you could use Diigo as a way to teach them how to read and extract information more effectively?

    I know when I started back to school for my masters I benefitted immensely from seeking out advice on how to read efficiently and effectively for that level and volume of reading. Unfortunately ANU has re-arranged their web site, so I can’t point you to Megan Poore’s excellent SkillsSoup episode on how to read, but if you really want a link, I’ll bug her.

    Cheers and see you in SL


  4. Thats right … but remember when year 7 ICT meant using ‘touch typing’ applications, how to use a keyboard etc.?

    We now gloss over those key fine motor skills and I suspect that by the time a kid hits year 7 we are also assuming that they have some ability to ‘read’ digital texts for sustained periods too.

    I think that it would be a good – check – for learning in the classroom for all teachers. Look forward to hearing if you observe the same.

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