Digital Winter

I’ve been working on a (not sure what to call it) – thing that’s a bit too big now to call a blog post.

But the idea in it is that of students being in a ‘digital winter’ when it comes to ICTs. I think that several years ago, ICTs were more engaging to students, but as technology became ubiquatous in their lives, the activities often have not moved on.

So the ‘digital winter’ is the idea that many students have frosted over in ICT lessons and are reasonably ‘cold’ when it comes to motivation. Perhaps this is why so many simply copy and paste information, rather than become engaged. We talk about students being passive in ICT, but I think it’s worse than that, I think they are often stone cold.

So in designing activities in mainstream classes (not project based learning), I think that rather than being a teacher, you have to think about being and ‘information architect’.

How do we present information so that it thaws out students? How do we present it to students so that they engage with it – from multiple perspectives?

Central to that is finding ways in which the activity itself relegates a lot of the ‘copy and paste’ experiences to what they in fact are, low order thinking.

How can we ‘copy and paste proof’ learning and raise the levels of learning to higher order thinking? How can we do that with out making it overly complex, or too prescriptive? How can EdTechs (if there is such a person) model this to teachers who may have fairly low interest in ICT, or have limited access to it? ...

There are a lot of questions raised, just in thinking about developing an activity that uses read/write methods, so its very helpful when students help you out with some of them.

One thing I’ve learned, forum discussions are best used when students start them. They tend to attract 4x the responses than if a teacher does.

Teachers should join the conversation when asked and not wade in with their thoughts. Being seen overtly monitoring and commenting in a discourse community makes it a ‘creepy tree house’. The value of the forum is often that you get a window on the ‘zone of proximity’.

Here is an example of students doing just this.

Create entry documents that are are ‘short’ on details. Let the students identify this! It creates discussion.

The project is introduced, not all answers given at the outset. It is a concious decision – not to give out all the answers, or even all the information. Un-packing a brief is as important as answering it.

I’ve lost count how many times in the past that I’ve told students when reviewing exams ‘read the question!’.

Maybe they do, they are just not great at unpacking it. Creating discussion allows them to ‘find fault’ – something they love to do – and it helps them unpack the overall picture. Sneeky, but it works.

I also try to desk-top-publish briefing documents.

Okay, so I’m an ex-art director (ouch the salary drop hurts) so its not that hard for me to knock out some InDesign or Photoshop – but presenting the task as visually ‘different, is another key motivator. Advertisers know the value of making visual statements that make people stop and think.

More often than not, most school assessment tasks are rather bland and predicatable word documents off a ‘schooly’ template. They represent a slow test, not an exciting activity.

Back to the Digital Springtime … creating peer debate and interest motivates. Motivation leads to effort.

One for All Grade Assignments

Rather than design an assessment task that is handed out in several grade classes, and worked on in ‘silos’. I am learning that desiging one in which the entire grade work in a discourse community – works better. It is also way easier to model and support the teachers – who are also often thawing out.

Using your PLN to bring ‘outsiders’ into the project makes it more authentic and adds more interest. What is great to find out are forum discussions that indicate that the students are warming to undertaking the task.

In a grade task, it only takes 5% of students to get engaged early, to draw the interest of the others. Immediately, a new pedogogy is created, and the project takes off. Just be sure to call it a study group with Senior Students, not a Blog or a Ning or whatever. Does it work? well this project went live 1st September 2008, this discussion was started 3 days after. The students are indeed not used to this ‘kind’ of learning – but they do engage with it – once they thaw out a little.

I read and thought about Kim’s post about the professional development cycle, and this lead me to think about the learning cycle.

  • Re-engagement comes from out of a “Digital Winter”, so you need to suprise and generate interest in a project though their curiosity.
  • “Digital Spring” happens when a few students start to ‘try’ out the EdTech and sandbox it – More students watch, than take part, but never the less, the hit stats show that more visit than post.
  • “Digital Summer” happens when kids start to lead the discource community, taking over often from the early adopters, and from the teachers
  • “Digital Fall/Autumn (proper)” – the evaluation and reflection of the project – usually started again by students.

Of course what we are all dreaming of is the Endless Summer! You want to make sure the Winter is short. So that we can learn from the task, and invent a better one!