Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why call for connected classrooms?

Why call for connected classrooms?

A connected classroom utilizes the current social activities of the web -- cell phones, wiki collaboration, social networks, videos, blogs and comments, etc. -- to engage students in thoughtful conversations of learning.

It's not just the future pulling us forward, it's the need that pull presents us: nuggets of knowledge require critical contemplation.

Our interconnected students click and choose, skim and sort, and decide and delete. Many jump to the next thought with only a glimmer of slim knowledge to support the development of who they are.

So, notwithstanding the motivation of Web 2.0 engagement, why should schools embrace these tools?

Consider what is supposedly lost according to this recent research:

"The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking...

As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, 'Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.' But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver...

In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence."

"What the Internet is doing to our brains--Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Nicholas Carr. The Atlantic Online. July/August 2008

I agree. To read undistracted, thinking and analyzing, creating the "mind movies" of understanding seems lost in hyperlinked snippets of perhaps unreliable texts from which perhaps questionable beliefs add to the development of a student's character; the linked world as peer pressure lends a fragile film of knowledge -- a shell onto which the world view is based.

Yet, is something different happening also? In their texting and MySpace/Facebook/Ning world, are those comments and blogs adding a thoughtful discourse for clarifying how the world works, how the world did work, and how to BE in the world?

I wonder if anyone is studying that aspect?

So why connected classrooms?

To educate! -- from educere "to lead" -- to lead students into the critical contemplation of an educated citizen in a global, connected world. The tools are there: Diigo, delicious, Google, Google Notebook, to name a few. The strategies run the system: tag/label, network, comments, summarize, share, questions. Let's apply them in ways that encourage students to synthesize their world into more meaningful memes.

In 1897, John Dewey wrote, "I believe, therefore, that the true center of correlation on the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child's own social activities." Our students' lives are public and social networks; if we are to lead them, Dewey's prescience provides the reason we must be connected in schools: we must include those social activities in order to engage their energy to lead them to deeper thinking.

Why call for connected classrooms?

The Socratic pedagogy of questioning continues -- we question from their interests and activities; we ask for more information; we pour over their research and ponder together for deeper understanding. By leading students further into their formerly haphazard "click, skim, click, decide, click, delete", we help them find the nuggets that matter as they bookmark, tag, share, discuss, evaluate, analyze, and apply. We encourage the vehicle for the concentrated contemplation that reading on paper once provided.*

We can barely imagine the power of this connected knowledge, that which the doomsayers cannot even envision. To prevent flattened knowledge, schools must get connected.

Another recent article strikes at the physical aspects of the Internet:

"The physical manipulations we have to do with a computer, not related to the reading itself, disturb our mental appreciation, says associate professor Anne Mangen at the Center for Reading Research at the University of Stavanger in Norway...'Learning requires time and mental exertion and the new media do not provide for that,' Mangen believes."

The University of Stavanger. "Storybooks On Paper Better For Children Than Reading Fiction On Computer Screen, According to Expert." ScienceDaily 22 December 2008. 28 December 2008 .

That is precisely why schools must join the connection: to engage students in the time and thought required to evaluate and synthesize information and stories, and to use the physical manipulation to their advantage for careful consideration of what is seen/heard/read/ on the Internet. We need to rethink many things:

Rethink deep thinking: Truly deep thinking occurs on issues that matter -- which brings us back to Dewey and the Socratic Questioning Method -- use the social interests and activities. Thinking is what kids are doing without us. We just don't see it yet, and may not like the results if we aren't part of it. Let's connect and consider, contemplate and collaborate, educate and engage with students.

Why not call for connected classrooms? The kids are leading us there. Let's connect.

1447, from L. educatus, pp. of educare "bring up, rear, educate," which is related to educere "bring out," from ex- "out" + ducere "to lead"
"educate." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 28 Dec. 2008.

More John Dewey quotes:

The progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience.

I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.

I believe that the image is the great instrument of instruction. What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it.

I believe that much of the time and attention now given to the preparation and presentation of lessons might be more wisely and profitably expended in training the child's power of imagery and in seeing to it that he was continually forming definite, vivid, and growing images of the various subjects with which he comes in contact in his experience.

Dewey, John (1897) 'My pedagogic creed', The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number 3 (January 16, 1897), pages 77-80. Also available in the informal education archives,

John Dewey Summary...the necessity for the teacher of understanding the students' past experiences in order to effectively design a sequence of liberating educational experiences to allow the person to fulfil their potential as a member of society.

* A note on reading:

How many kids today do you see actually reading a book and contemplating what they are thinking?

Much reading instruction today focuses on discrete skills, standardized test question practice, and assigned reading.

Where in that time do students practice deep thinking?
Where in that time do students think deeply about what matters to them?


Truly deep thinking occurs on issues that matter -- which brings us back to Dewey and the Socratic Questioning Method -- use the social interests and activities. Thinking is what kids are doing without us. We just don't see it yet, and may not like the results if we aren't part of it. Let's connect and consider, contemplate and collaborate, educate and engage with students.

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