Twenty-Three Things: Getting Started

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

I’ve run into my first challenge, though. The embedded videos from YouTube on why it’s important to learn to be a digital learner if you’re a modern day teacher don’t work. So I don’t know what the list-creator had in mind for the participants to see.

So I guess I have to choose my own.  For me, a lot of my interest in online digital teaching began with the “Did You Know” videos by Karl Fisch and his partners at Arapaho High School, which is embedded below (The current version of this video is this one, as far as I know)

For me, I’m not sure that kids are much different now than they were 2000 years ago.  I don’t think human beings change that fast, on an evolutionary scale; what I think is different is that the cultural realm in which they participate is becoming different than the cultural realm in which the adults who teach them is changing rapidly.  I don’t necessarily have any evidence to support this, but there’s a world of difference between adults who listen to jazz in their free time and worry about how to pay for college for their kids and their mortgage, and kids who want to attend pool parties and listen to dub step and make Instagram selfies. The very fact that the words “Instagram” and “selfies” don’t appear in my spelling auto-correct is a kind of evidence that there’s a growing disconnect between adult culture and youth culture.  Part of that disconnect is digital, certainly.  Through my Tumblr account, for example, I’ve seen that there’s a growing body of young people who have more in common with one another across vast distances and time zones, than with the people who live in their immediate physical area.  This is one of the major themes of the book Eastern Standard Tribe, by Cory Doctorow, about young people screwing up their sleep schedules in order to hang out with the group that makes them feel most welcome online.  This is really happening — it’s no longer in the realm of science fiction.

So the question becomes: can we force students – young people, really – to conform to adult culture?  I think not: the cat is out of the bag on this one, or the genie from the bottle.  Instagram and Tumblr and Facebook and other such systems aren’t going to go away (my own Druidic leanings’ opinions can be left for another time, I think.  Let’s assume that the world isn’t going to collapse in the white-hot fury of a hydrogen bomb, but that a gradual descent from a tech-oriented civilization is possible and likely in the long run, but not an immediate threat).

So we can’t just force kids to conform to the content areas that we’re supposed to teach, and we can’t push them to accept a culture that isn’t really theirs.  Seventy-five years of relentless marketing to teens and young people has taken its toll; they are their own culture now, a culture that is under relentless pressure to change every three weeks to six months, to suit advertising needs and the demands of the market.  How do we, as teachers, inject a bit of the long-range elements of culture into the mimetic DNA of their experience?

Can’t beat em or conquer ’em? Join ’em.  While Greece could not conquer Rome by the force of arms, she did contribute her own philosophical and cultural mindset to the growth of the Roman ecumene.  And this becomes our goal too:  how to provide the modern youth with enough of a sampling of the culture of the past, to ensure the survival of some of it into the future?

Next time, my response to the seven and a half habits of life-long learners.

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