2 reasons not to be a 21C sheep

From Google’s Research blog, they were talking about computational thinking. They say this is important because

“Given the increasing prevalence of technology in our day-to-day lives and in most careers outside of computer science, we believe that it is important to raise this base level of understanding in everyone.”

Google says “everyone” – and this has implications for educators.

Problem decomposition: the ability to break down a problem into sub-problems;
Pattern recognition:
the ability to notice similarities, differences, properties, or trends in data;
Pattern generalization:
the ability to extract out unnecessary details and generalize those that are necessary in order to define a concept or idea in general terms; and
Algorithm design:
the ability to build a repeatable, step-by-step process to solve a particular problem

If we take this criteria and look at common educational use of technology – emailing, uploading, downloading and writing text in some form or word-processor and searching, I think that education scores very low. We already have an entire generation are more interested in being computational thinkers than we appreciate as they game in early stages of school. By the end of primary school, they are seriously questioning the relationships they have with teachers – and have a deep affinity with technology.

Learning in school, by and large centers around literacy, so we have also think about the literacy needed to participate in computational thinking and the relationship between teachers’ use of online literacy strategies and student achievement. Research conduced in the last decade has some clear findings about what ‘text’ engages them in learning.

Social (and cognitive) acknowledgment
Scaffolding (and suggestions)
Giving praise
Proposing elaborations

Return for a second to the common use of ICT, and the notion that computer based text is geared towards either searching for information, or creating it for expected learning outcomes (make a powerpoint, write and essay, make a poster, find examples of etc.,). Is Web2.0 doing this in classrooms? I read this post about “21 signs you’re a 21st Century teacher“. Much of this is actually not about teaching at all – but about using and producing with technology.

If we take the rise of semantic web seriously – then Google’s post level’s up what we think the signs of good teaching with technology are.

It is not good enough to move past Office, we have to actually design learning around computational thinking and online literacy strategies that are powering the evolution itself – if kids are to be convinced. Assertions such as “You make your students turn in their cell phones before class starts…because you plan on using them in class” or “You ask your students to study and create reports on a controversial topic…and you grade their video submissions.” are ignorant of the way in which technology is actually shaping education out of the classroom.

Stephen Downes wrote recentlyWe need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.” he also quotes former Open University Chancellor Sir John Daniel saying ” it becomes clear that we have to change the model. The idea that students will assemble in a building to be provided education by a teacher (if they’re young) or a professor (if they’re older) is not scalable.”

Think about it this way.

When a teacher thinks about learning a new technology, they think about who’s going to teach them in a classroom and how they will use it in the classroom. When game designers want to teach you something – they make a game full of challenges – and a community of peer assisted learners forms around solving them. Inside and outside the game – there is no assumption that you need a teacher at all, but that you are literate enough to participate.

“Games are not fun because they’re games, but when they are well designed.” – Sebastian Deterding, “Pawned”

I am not suggesting that the content being taught, and foundational literacy is about to leave school or not an important element of a child’s education, but I am saying that adding Web2.0 inside that envelope is unlikely to compete effectively with environments that allow networked communities to educate themselves. If this post struck a chord – I recommend reading this one too by Chad Sansing – looking at why education finds this hard to reconcile.


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  1. Pingback: links for 2010-10-29 « doug – off the record

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