Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Academically Rigorous Digital Work by the Net-Generation

A colleague of mine, Mark Bullen, has created a "Net Gen Skeptic" blog that I follow -- his aim is to debunk the myth, largely created by "hire a keynote" speakers like Don Tapscott, that this generation is born "digitally native" and can magically do anything with technology from the time they emerge from the womb. More specifically, Mark and his research team aim "to provide a balanced exploration of research and commentary on generational differences, particularly the net generation discourse and impacts on learning, teaching and the use of technology. Mark's goal is to expose the hype and promote an informed discussion of evidence-based strategies that postsecondary institutions can use to harness the power of Web 2.0 and other learning technologies". Bullen's blog makes a lot of sense by taking a research perspective, an evidence-based view, on the 'net-gen' concept.

While I do believe, based on 16 years of teaching and research in educational technology and a vast research literature that supports this view, that children of all ages CAN and often DO accomplish amazing things with technology, I have also learned that amazing digital work by children usually emerges in response to a rich invitation into meaningful and engaging inquiry - a big question, an enduring idea, an wicked problem to solve. When children do amazing work using digital forms, it usually involves reliable and robust hard/software and networks, and occurs in a strong culture of inquiry, expectation, pressure and support, and is guided by knowledgeable teachers and parents.

In the many classrooms that I visit, teach and conduct research in, kindergarten to university students complete high quality projects, create rich and diverse online portfolios, collaborate and create knowledge online, and stun me with creative and beautiful performances using technology -- I have seen these achievements occur Most Often When (MOW):
  1. Students are asked to do work that is authentic, meaningful and interesting, and gives students an opportunity to express their unique character and diverse strengths;
  2. Students are asked to do work that is academically rigorous, work that is deeply connected to a discipline, or to several disciplines, that represents work that historians, mathematicians, artists, authors, scientists, DO;
  3. Students are connected to experts and rich sources both within and beyond the school, both in person and online;
  4. Students have a role in designing assessments of high quality work and students receive regular feedback on their work, formative assessment is focused on continual improvement, and reviews of their work come from several sources (i.e., teacher, peers, parents, experts in community);
  5. Students use technology appropriately, which means building knowledge more effectively, efficiently or differently with technology, and even better, that the technology enables teachers and learners to do something new, something they cannot do without the technology.
High quality academic work, whether it results in digital or physical artifacts, emerges and evolves within a culture and context of inquiry (i.e., disciplined research and ongoing questions about what is worth knowing), expectation and pressure (i.e., a belief in every child's ability to meet high standards and expectations for the quality and nature of discipline-rich work), and, importantly, support (i.e., from leaders, parents, teachers, peers). So, like other kinds of deep learning, acts of creativity and bursts of imagination, I believe there is a great deal more "in play" than a savvy generation of kids in the same room with a bunch of computers.

For authentic images of the learning and creation that children are capable of when they learn with technology, I encourage you to take a trip through some academically rigorous, inquiry-focused, technology-enhanced projects completed by students and teachers at the Galileo Network's Inquiry Exhibits site: classroom exemplars.


Hank said...

Sugata's work in India, on "the hole in the wall project," http:/, is consistent with Tapscott's general argument. See also

"Consistent with." "Evidence?" Maybe, maybe not enough for the dedicated deniers (to recycle a widely used term these days). But like Tapscott's anecdotes, there is again the idea that you have to get the technology out of the gridlock of conventional classrooms?

- brad said...

Interesting, I was about to make a similar post.Sugata's work does suggest that un-guided access to information mediated by the web (particularly things like Google), can result in spontaneous and self-guided learning.

Q1: Does the 'hole-in-the-wall' phenomenon extend beyond poverty stricken regions where little or no education has been available? That is, is the context crucial?