Friday, November 11, 2011

Guiding the Digital Pilgrims #change11

I was perhaps a bit too caustic (or cryptic, or esoteric....or one of those things I'm often accused of being) yesterday in my post on Rhizomatic Learning, and for the most part I find the theory to be fascinating and ideal. I do find, however, that starved rootstalks can't bounce back so quickly, and I'm not sure a flood will help. Likewise, perhaps some rootstalks actually need to be trimmed.

Too often educators assume that students are just waiting for someone who will take the lid off, provide some nutrients, and stand back to watch the massive growth.

Okay, let's ditch this organic metaphor, because we're really talking about technology. We imagine our primary job is unleashing the digital native within.

However, students aren't as tech savvy as we tend to think. Sure, they're good at using the devices, but not necessarily at thinking critically about the information they find, as this Wired article by Clive Thompson point outs:

Other studies have found the same thing: High school and college students may be “digital natives,” but they’re wretched at searching. In a recent experiment at Northwestern, when 102 undergraduates were asked to do some research online, none went to the trouble of checking the authors’ credentials. In 1955, we wondered why Johnny can’t read. Today the question is, why can’t Johnny search?

Can't figure out how to upload a file, reconfigure your Facebook settings, or create a mash-up? Digital native to the rescue! But when it comes to asking the big questions and being critical of information, the role of the educator hasn't changed. The medium has, but not the message. Apologies to McLuhan.

(Actually, no apologies necessary, since McLuhan quickly changed his own slogan to "The medium is the massage." McLuhan was, in reality, a heavy critic of technology and somewhat of a medievalist.)

We also face the problem of taking that fun tech into the classroom and turning it into another chore. Or, worse yet, turning the classroom into Best Buy and simply training a classroom of good consumers without encouraging them to search what's beneath the label.

Forget digital natives. We're really dealing with digital pilgrims.

They might be skilled at gathering every possible leaf, root, nut, and berry. But do they know which ones are poisonous?


  1. Beth Baker-BrodersenNovember 11, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    Really enjoyed reading this, and Thursday's post as well. Glad you're continuing to ask the "big questions" and encouraging the rest of us to consider them too.

  2. Thanks for reading, Beth! I'd rather ask the big questions than the little ones, like what's for dinner? I struggle with those.

  3. Andrew, Good questions. I wrote a blogpost on your problem,
    I think it really a miracle to write in a blog from you in Iowa. because it is the other side of the world in my view. Great this MOOC, meeting people all over the world.


  4. Jaap,
    Thanks for your reply. You raise a lot of important questions. This one is curious, among others:

    What happens in schools (or elsewhere) that makes students uncritical consumers of answers?)

    It's good to know that this is an issue across cultures.