Unlearning the Internet – Part 2/3
The www has corrupted how well schools used ICTs in the 1990s. There is no doubt that students benefited from using CAI approaches. “Drill and Skill”– learning MS Office, learning to Touch Type or learning Phonetics using software, was beneficial school leavers in the 1990s as they entered employment or attended University. Schools did a very good job with computing – it was taught in a context that had learning frameworks that delivered what was needed at the time.
However, in the mid 1990s, the www crept into the classroom – full of promises of universal access to information – and on demand learning. It was the era of the ‘information superhighway’. This actually ran very slowly over a dial up modem, shared by dozens of students on flaky networks . To teachers and students it was something of a world wide wait, then crash. The trickle of information that came though via Yahoo and Alta Vista was really used as a ‘bolt-on’ for existing pedagogy and resources. They were cited as being ‘important’ but in all reality, the Internet in schools during the 1990s was a total nightmare for all but the most die-hard of teachers exploring ‘cyberspace’.
Learning how to get the best out of the net on these unreliable, slow networks was simply too hard for many experienced ‘computer science’ teachers – used to grappling with school ‘under funded’ ICTs – let alone anyone else. Teachers had no experience of using it to suit learning in the www domain, it was a world away from what they had been doing as previously – CAI software provided everything they needed.
Teachers were never really taught what the Internet could do for learning – we worried about what it was and how to make it (some learned how to write HTML) – and skipped the development of learning frameworks and digital taxonomies. Drill and skill and CAI frameworks were eroded by students’ natural curiosity, which led them to search engines – and ‘surfing the internet’.
In a world pre YouTube, the interest for students was email, Yahoo Chat, Microsoft Messenger. To them, the Internet offeres a place to communicate where parents and teachers have no power over them. They are not foremost ‘into’ the internet as a content provider, but as a communication channel. Back then, only a few had mobile phones and parents controlled the landline. If they could ‘get online’ they had low cost, instant, access to their friends – and that was real independence.
Right from the outset – the www had a completely different use for students. It offered a new freedom to communicate and a growing usefulness in ‘searching’ for information that could be pumped directly into assessments and essays. They were better than teachers at finding, and better at sharing and since then, we’ve been complaining and rattling our sabers about plagiarism and copyright. Students are by and large not interested in the laws, ethics or morality of the internet. To them the price point is zero and everything is there for the talking. We have to teach them that part. They just want to get the ‘best’ or ‘right’ answer and know that they stand a better than average chance of finding it on Wikipedia. Our love of marking and ‘ticks’ needs to expand. Getting the right answers is not as important as asking a better question. The internet has so much information, that pushing students questions into the deepest corners of ‘web knowledge’ is critical – things they won’t find on the first page of Google.
What are the new learning frameworks, new pedagogies needed to create exploritory and contructive classroom learning? First of all, teachers need to unlearn what they’ve learned about the internet. That was the old internet based on drill and skill – now it’s a communication channel, and teachers need to learn how to participate in the learning conversation.