Old Mess / New Mess

I used to think of the world as divided into digital immigrants and digital natives.  Shelly Blake-Plock, David Warlick, Ira Socol, Gary Stager and others helped me to see that thought as misguided.

There are people who are comfortable with most aspects of new technologies, and others who are comfortable with more aspects, and some who are easy with even fewer aspects.  Yet even the most tech-savvy people I know are occasionally rendered speechlessly uncomfortable with some aspect of the new technology.

Instead, I’ve begun to think of the divide between Old Mess and New Mess.

Old Mess is trying to get chalk dust out of your clothes and mouth from lecturing too much.  New Mess is knee and back pain from squatting next to the desk of a student, reading over a blog entry with them before they publish it live.

Old Mess is grading papers individually and recording results in a neat grid.  New Mess is figuring out how to grade a wiki entry on the emperor Tiberius that sixteen students contributed to writing and editing.

Old Mess is writing lesson plans for the next day or week while trying to figure out if the students are going to do or not do their home work each night.  New Mess is knowing, thanks to wiki “recent changes” logs, that no one did their homework before class. 

Old Mess is giving vocabulary quizzes based on word lists assigned by the state or by the textbook, which may or may not relate to the words the students actually need to learn in order to understand the chapter of a book.  New Mess is discovering that your classes collectively looked up 300 words in a 1300-word text, and made wiki entries on each of them.

Old Mess is dealing with a kid who copied his homework from Wikipedia.  New Mess is figuring out if the Wikipedia entry is good information or bad, and praising or correcting the student as needed.

Old Mess is arguing with parents about “appropriateness” of the portrayal of evolution in the history textbook.  New Mess is arguing with parents about the “appropriateness” of actually reading the more salacious stories about Caligula and Nero.

Old Mess is keeping kids with computers away from porn sites and Facebook, and on-task learning to type.  New Mess is getting kids with computers to do more than visit porn sites, Facebook and learn to type.

Old Mess is trying to divide up research projects in such a way that not too many kids will need the same 2-3 books from the 900s shelves in the library.  New Mess is allowing three students to work on the same subject, provided they share their research from the Internet and make one wiki page together.

Old Mess is finding an extra book, pencil or paper for the underprepared kid to take notes.  New Mess is creating a quiet place in a busy classroom for the underprepared kid to work on his podcast on the Great Fire of Rome.

Old Mess is asking, “any questions” and listening to silence in the room at the end of a lecture.  New Mess is hearing ten questions as you circulate the room.

Old Mess is being the only expert in a room full of beginners not eager to learn.  New Mess is discovering you’re only the most experienced learner, commanding a team full of learners.

Old Mess is being short of funds to buy extra books and supplies.  New Mess is discovering how many USEFUL different tools and resources are free online.

Old Mess is fighting with administrators over textbook choices.  New Mess is administrators asking when you’ll get around to getting the textbooks you don’t plan to use from the book storage room.

Old Mess is fearing parent-teacher conference day because you have to report a string of a student’s failures because he can’t read a textbook.  New Mess is fearing parent-teacher conference day because you have to report that a student’s success is due to a bizarre interest in Nero’s reported perversity.

Old Mess is explaining to a parent that their high-performing but non-English-speaking child can’t write a cogent paragraph yet.  New Mess is explaining that they can’t write a paragraph yet, but they’ve added 40 vocabulary words to the class wiki in two languages.

Old Mess is losing a student paper.  New Mess is knowing how little homework a student has done based on the wiki’s “recent changes” log keyed to username.

Old Mess is discovering how many students make the same grammatical mistakes on their papers.  New Mess is discovering how many students “correct” other people’s wiki sentences to grammatical incorrectness.

Old Mess is file folders filled with reams of student papers. New Mess is a digital portfolio full of dozens of “in process” projects.

Old Mess is too many papers to grade.  New Mess is grading a tangle of wiki pages and links.

Old Mess is bad cursive handwriting.  New Mess is clear Garamond 12-point, revealing the underlying writing flaws.

Old Mess is lots of low-level problems disguising lots of high-level  New Mess is lots of low-level problems revealing high-level problems.

Old Mess is “how should I teach?”.  New Mess is “How do we all learn to do this better?”

Old Mess is tradition.  New Mess is FutureShock.

Blogged with the Flock Browser
Liked it? Take a second to support Andrew on Patreon!


  1. Andrew, I appreciate, as always, your point. I’m actually going to use the concept of “digital socialization” to illustrate my talk to the Parents’ Association tomorrow about social networking.

    • I appreciate, as always, your willingness to comment.

      You may have heard through the grape vine that my history students use computers in class every day, now. It’s the only way to teach, I think. Maybe there are days they shouldn’t have them, but the fact is that they do, and it’s like deliberately crippling them not to use them.

      Computers don’t make my life easier. They make it harder for me. But my students will have an easier time because of these tools, and I shouldn’t hold back from them just because they make me uncomfortable.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.