Disaster Recipe

Today, I discovered that I’m really a very good digital learner.  But I’m not a very good digital teacher.  And a lot of it comes down to three issues:

  1. access
  2. experimentation
  3. wonder

If you look up there, in the upper right of my blog page, there’s a little map produced by ClustrMaps.  The basic tool is free. You can pay for premium features, like archived maps and such, but I prefer the simplest version.  The only way to get the tool is through the Web.

Likewise, this blog runs on WordPress.com.  It’s free, and the way to get to the tool is through the Web. Before these tools there was LiveJournal.com (would you believe I started blogging in April 2002?).  Before that, there was Diaryland.com. Before that there was a Geocities page.  I’ve been a contributor to Wikipedia and Wikibooks,  I have Flickr and Twitter accounts and I even posted a copy of my master’s thesis on the Cistercians.

The underlying theme is unfettered, unrestricted access.  I’ve always paid for my Internet service, even in graduate school in the mid 1990s. I made the same mistakes that our students make.  Once the Internet began including educational content, I used it for that too, and my use began to conform more frequently to what we can generically label Acceptable Use.

The second theme is experimentation.  I’ve used podcasting software, movie-making software, databases, word processors, photo editors, image editors, VoIP, at least five different browsers, gradebooks, PowerPoint, remote access, address books, Google SketchUp, and Google Earth and… well, you get the idea.

The last theme is wonder.  “I wonder if I can build a model of the Parthenon?” And the answer is no, I can’t.  I haven’t got the mad skillz in SketchUp to do it effectively in the amount of time I have to work on it.  But I’ve found a lot of people who can.  “I wonder if I can build a better gradebook in a spreadsheet, than on paper?”  Well, no… but I at least now know how to keep a gradebook online. That may come in useful if the school ever makes its online grading system open to teachers, parents and students on log-in. “Can I write a blog about teaching that hundreds will want to read?” Well… yes.

The point is, all these skills evolved in me as a result of unfettered Internet access, and they likely evolved in you, my readers, as a result of some of the same convergences: access, experiment, wonder.

But that’s not the world in which our students operate when teachers take them online.   And I find that when I do so, I’m expected to play the role of a gatekeeper to my students — to constrain their access to only what is acceptable use, to discourage experimentation with non-approved websites and materials, and to limit their wonder to the materials within my own specific curriculum.

And I wonder how many administrative iterations and how many student generations it will take before we recognize the inherent recipe for disaster we’re asking our teachers to brew up on a daily basis?

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