Thursday, October 05, 2006

Digital Natives in an Immigrant Community

Today in our Grade 6 staff meeting, we had a funny chuckle. The science teacher was explaining that she was giving notes and having the kids copy them from her PowerPoint presentation. One of our cheekiest students, George, asked if she could just e-mail him the notes.

All 10 or so of us laughed. But, the question has rattled around my head since the staff meeting.

Why can't we e-mail students the notes?

I'm not sure George's question was necessarily cheeky. Is there something inherently good about copying notes? Does a student get something out of copying notes that just looking at them on the computer and/or a printout wouldn't provide?

Now there are good pedagogical reasons, I suppose. The teacher believes the student will learn the material by copying down the notes. Maybe the teacher wants to elaborate on the basic notes.

However, my guess is that the teacher was using technology to control the class. I know I do. Nothing shuts kids up like a few animations or other whiz-bang features. The information was all in the teacher's head and she was just using the computer to display what she knew. There is nothing wrong with this method, but it doesn't take full advantage of technology. PowerPoint becomes a glorified blackboard.

I think George was probably asking an important question that pertained to his learning style. I'd guess that he is an auditory learner. He doesn't learn by doing or seeing, but by hearing. Anything that distracts him from paying attention to the teacher means he isn't learning. George was simply asking to use technology to benefit him and his learning.

Today's simple question shows a problem within (our) schools. The teachers are all digital immigrants. The kids are all digital natives. To e-mail someone your notes seems natural to a digital native. To a digital immigrant it appears like cheating, because good ol' paper and pen was fine when we went to school.

The challenge for schools isn't how to use technology. The private sector has plenty of uses for technology. The bigger challenge is going to be how to get the digital immigrants to let go of control and let the digital natives show what they can do. Even if it upsets the lesson plan.

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