Friday, October 15, 2010

Empowering our students for CRITICAL engagement with new technologies

Let me be the first to say, critical people get on my nerves.

They are the ones that look at me funny when my toddler sneaks her pacifier (now only reserved for sleeping) out of my purse and snags a few drags on it in the mall when I'm not looking. They are the people in my daycare cooperative who send emails with "friendly reminders and suggestions" about only using filtered water for our baby's to drink and refraining from discussing death when a kid encounters a dead butterfly. And they are the folks who judge me as unscholarly by my wrinkled shirt, my wild curly hair, my juvenile backpack.

But, let me be the first to also say that critical STUDENTS who can critically THINK . . . they get me pumped up. Here's what I love about we technology folks. (I'm unsure if I am a legit member of the group technology folks, but just go with it.) I love how we assume, take for granted, and imagine K-12 students that are naturally thoughtful about their use of technology. Take the short "7 Things You Should Know About Wikipedia" by Educause, for instance. The lovely scenario features Elliot, a graduate student using Wikipedia who is such a reflective, critical user of the site that he checks out the discussion page and ends up editing the source himself. Upon reading about Pat's engagement with Wikipedia, any educator might be pushed to jump up and shout "TECHNOLOGY IS SUPREME!" If only all of our students were empowered to engage in this way . . .

One amazing teacher in Bloomington recently did a unit on Wikipedia with her students, and explicitly enabled them to participate in this way. They looked at various wikipedia pages, spent time checking the sources, made some revisions, and ended up getting their well-thought-out-revisions erased by someone else a week later. (Ouch!) They also started their own page on their school. This was not a one hour lesson, or even a one week lesson. For us to make space for critical reflection about technology, we have to make space for technology in our curriculum. IT CAN NOT BE AN ADD ON. Adding it on as an afterthought (as I've been known to do) is a recipe for noncritical engagement.

So let's get real about technology and let's get real about the students we teach. We're all somewhere on this spectrum of critical participation, and none of us have fully arrived. And let's not make the mistake to avoid technology because of a noted lack of reflectiveness in our students. We could all use reminding: we teach to the needs, not to the strengths.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right, and I think that's where teachers come in, to be there as a guide for students and all that-- but when you take it further by saying teachers THEMSELVES need to think critically about technology use, I think you get to the root of a pretty central issue. How can we support teachers in having a thoughtful conversation about which technologies might support their classroom goals? How can technology "not be an add on?" Do I smell a teacher study group forming...????