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Sitting here at the Duxton in Perth while Marc Prensky engages us with his ideas on the “New Paradigm”. Predicated on the notion that the majority of approaches to current education are not created with the modern learner in mind, these assumptions and assertions filter through:

  • Digital Natives - grew up in the digital world - without a guidebook and without guidance.
  • They have developed an ‘e-life’
  • Current students challenge traditional tools of education - but embrace the critical and social constructivist pedagogical assumptions.
  • Young people create as much as they consume (Q: degree and complexity is questionable)
  • “Growing up in the light” - metaphor.
  • “You have to slow down when talking with teachers” - a student quote.
  • The well known native/immigrant discussion.
  • To engage we must enagage WITH students - we must be part of the journey.

So far the description of the “New Paradigm” seems to be an iteration of Dewey and others who recognised that learning is done by learners. And that learners can include “teacher” - social constructivism and critical pedagogy… modes of input are interactive - output becomes multi-modal.

  • Evaluate quality - an essential part of the work done by teachers and students in learning - especially in a digital context.
  • About allowing learners to “DO” - set them loose on a task… where only the goal is defined.

Student panel revealed interesting (if not unfamiliar) attitudes.

I take on board some of the criticisms I heard uttered at the event today - that the oversimplification of the material is potentially harmful. It assumes a rich understanding of pedagogy and and a willingness to make a significant cultural shift that is probably not evident - the biggest risk is that studnets will be set loose without guidance.

That said, a lot of the material that Prensky offers is a digitally contextualised restatement of older studnet-centred, social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning. From my point of view it was quite refreshing to hear that the way I endeavour to teach in schools is being touted as valuable. Shifting quite comfortably to the meddler in the middle, I enjoy the processes that offer me a chance to be engage and extend my own understandings and knwledge along with the students.

One of the concerning factors, and I did pipe up quite loudly and unceremoniuously to challenge one teacher who seemed to be seeking a co-option of all of children’s play as some extension of formal learning. While Marc was talking about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, we saw the emergence of the Digital Coloniser

And I got to thinking about this notion of digital colonisation - a well established tradition of those with willingness to believe in their own power wanting to gain dominion over the new place they have occupied. We saw it with the great colonial nations of the past and I suggest we are beginning to see it now. While Marc was talking about becoming a learner alongside students I felt I was witnessing a very different mindset developing from some on the floor. We all know that many teachers are very conservative, often never having taken a risk… what I experienced today was someone desperately trying to maintain some sort of imagined power base. It showed a lack of respect and regard for the culture of young people, and no understanding of the iomportance of play in child development - it was rather an exercise in trying to co-opt the digital culture of young people to the existing paradigm of the teacher concerned. 

Like the colonialism of our history there is a risk that the teacher’s and education system’s control of resources for digital learning will foster a relationship of subjugation - that the lack of regard for the emergent cultures of our young people will see them pushed further and further from engaged critical pedagogies and self-direction. What is the point of giving lip service to all this technology engagement if our attitudes as tecahers remain constant. Who is willing to embrace the adage:

“Take your ideological hammer and smash your cherished values and at their foundation you will find nothing”?

Or the (allegedly) Hebrew proverb

“Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born to a different time”

The task undertaken with a student and 4 university academics to plan a mechanism for learning that did not allow for lecturing was engaging - our young helper was interested in a Drama approach and by unpacking a seemingly simply task to create an original performance we discovered enormous potentail to engage with virtually every learning area. I’ll unpack the program more fully elsewhere.