Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.
Classroom mobs, mayhem and murder
June 14th, 2008

Marc Prensky has had an article published over on edutopia, Young Minds, Fast Times: The Twenty-First-Century Digital Learner. I have mixed feelings about the article. I cannot help but feel that Marc has a habit of stereotyping teachers. There are good teachers out there. Many good teachers.

The article concludes with a synopsis as follows:

  • Talk to your students. They’re filled with great ideas on how to integrate tech into the classroom.
  • Lead by listening. Skip the classroom lecture and initiate discussions instead.
  • Ask students: What experiences in school really engaged you? How do you use technology in school as opposed to outside of school? What are your pet peeves?

This is already happening in many schools and classrooms.I agree, listening and talking to the students is a good idea. Gain their input.

Marc writes, “I’ve heard teachers argue that some subjects and topics need to have lectures, but, in truth, this is only a justification for the failure of those teachers to change how they teach.” I use lectures. It is one of the tools that I select from my backpack of teaching strategies. I do not stand there and speak parrot fashion. I roam, wander, gesticulate, grab props, involve students and tell the story. I share history. I live history. Many teachers adopt this approach. We all adopt many different approaches. Using the lecture is certainly no failure on my part. It is just one of the approaches I adopt and my students enjoy it. They look forward to it.

Not all classroom lectures are abysmal. I have been inspired and also entertained by great classroom lectures both at school and university.

Personally, I know I can engage the students with my historical recounts and storytelling. There is a place for classroom lectures. That form of instruction has a place in our society. It is a skill that should be shared with students. Their future careers may require the use of that skill at some time in the future. Who knows, they may become orators, speakers or even political leaders. The classroom lecture should not be simply cast aside or written off. Of course, the lecture can and should also be followed with discussion and shared input.

Marc writes that “we generally don’t make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught”. I disagree, even on a general level. Myself and other colleagues are constantly listening to our students. That is how it is in the classrooms and playgrounds today. Students engage and share their opinions far more than ever before. Their thoughts and opinions are not always shared in a polite manner but at least they are shared. Students simply feel that their ideas are there to be shared. They talk, we listen.

In the past I have allowed some of my classes to vote on the topics that they wish to be taught. The syllabus allows this in some courses where a mandatory programme is not required to be taught. I must note that even the mandatory syllabus topics allow some scope for choice. The students have a diverse choice and in fact they can create their own case studies and areas of research.

Only, yesterday, as another example, I asked a class what they felt was the best way to tackle a particular activity. I shared with them that I personally was not all that good with drawing and artwork and as a result had no personal exemplars that I could share with them yet I was hoping that the class could use these skills in a new and collaborative way to rework what we have all been learinng together during this semester. We shared possibilities, mapped out some strategies and they got on with the task. The idea worked well for about 80% of the students present. Not all could handle the freedom allowed. They preferred to adopt a more prescribed approach and found it difficult to collaborate. On the whole the class enjoyed the opportunity to decide the approach they wished to take with the task ~ collages and posters relating to topics taught so far this semester ~ communism, cold war, Vietnam War, changing rights and freedoms, land rights, native title, indigenous peoples.

The students do have the opportunities to use technology and we do make use of the tools. Not as often as I would like but it still happens

I still have reservations regarding Marc’s digital natives versus digital immigrants dichotomy of the past that seems to underpin much of his thought in this article. There is no way that I am a digital immigrant simply due to my generational status. I have posted on this theme before… [ September 2007 | October 2007 ] I know that myself and many other of my colleagues actually use technology in a more meaningful and productive manner that nearly all 1000 students at our school. Only a few of the students at the school are actually publishing online and actually achieving productive or meaningful outcomes either as individuals or as members of a community. I do not believe that the use of MySpace and Facebook by some of the students qualifies as publishing. Admittedly, some of the students meaningfully write on their MySpace pages. Others, however, are simply trying to generate extensive lists of ‘friends’ and adding photographs. Is that writing and publishing? Sure the students can type and text faster than I yet not many have the knowledge and understanding of the possibilities of technology that myself and many of the teachers at our school possess.

The article by Marc was sub-titled, “How tech-obsessed iKids would improve our schools“. Please, no more cliche terms ~ iKids. For goodness sake, they are students and children. Why must they be labeled iKids? Perhaps the sub-editors at edutopia had a hand in that. Are they really obsessed with technology? I feel it is not an obsession. It is just part of their lives. Technology is just there. Not an obsession per se.

Marc Prensky states he is 62 years of age in the article yet he writes that, “it is a measure of the malaise of our educational system that these old folk — smart and experienced as they may be — think they can, by themselves and without the input of the people they’re trying to teach, design the future of education.” I find the term old folk to be derogatory and a slight. I am 49. What’s wrong with being old? I am sure there is some wisdom in those brains and and experience in those bones that hold us up. There are old teachers who are listening to students.

Students are providing inputs. Yet I must question, how many of our students today could actually provide valuable, constructive and significant input as to how students are taught now and in the future? Not that many. Indeed, there are students that are wise beyond their years. Yes, there are students that are creative, deep thinkers and capable of sharing rich foresight. Their thoughts, experiences and feelings should be tapped into by educators. Yet these students are not in the main. They are a subset of the general school population. Not all students are capable of providing a constructive input. How many students have a deep or meta understanding of technology, teaching and learning integration? Sure, some will, but not many. The same applies to all segments of the population. I have a feeling this may generate a comment or two.

Marc feels that by not allowing students to provide input into their education ‘is unacceptable and untenable’. He adds that “It’s also dangerous. Or else our students will drop out (as they are doing), shoot at us (ditto), sue us, riot, or worse.” Marc seemingly envisions a world with mobs, mayhem and murder in the classroom. Now I admit I am a little cynical and also pessimistic at times given climate change, food riots and our over dependence on oil but I cannot imagine a world with maniacal students and streets littered with dead educators.

This dire approach by Marc is clutching at straws. It is tabloid journalism. Did Marc Prensky really write that? I find it hard to believe that any educator worth their salt could write anything as sensational as that. Does he really believe that our students will assassinate us if we do not allow them to decide how they wish to be taught? Are students that angry about the current state of affairs? I cannot see it from where I teach. What does Marc mean by “or worse“? I wonder what could be worse than being shot at? Sent to Guantanamo Bay by a mob of student vigilantes, perhaps?

Marc writes that, “There are better ways to help them learn, and students expect us, as the adults in the room, to know how to use them.” Okay Marc, I would be happy to know the ways. I am eager to always learn something new.

Marc states that “Students universally tell us they prefer dealing with questions rather than answers, sharing their opinions, participating in group projects, working with real-world issues and people, and having teachers who talk to them as equals rather than as inferiors.” Well, that is exactly how students are taught in our school. That is how I teach.

Can I assume, according to the vibes Marc’s article is generating for me, that students elsewhere are schooled differently? I use ther term schooled as I feel it indicates a retrograde form of learning and teaching. Schools do need to change, but not all schools. Some schools are actually doing a good job.

Well, that was a bit of a rant I guess. Not fully formed. Seemingly unfinished. Perhaps some of my readers can help me to finish this post? Perhaps even finish it off! Well, get on with it John! Press that Publish button already!

Addendum. I forgot to add… I grow tired of the over the use of the term “Twenty-First Century” in relation to education. The fact that we are living during the 21st century has no bearing on how we teach and learn. It is all relative. Frankly, I have not been overly impressed with the 21st century to date. I think the human race will come to a crunching halt in the not too distant future if we do not curb our excesses. How will technology be manufactured when the oil reserves, real or otherwise, are no longer available? This century is not even a decade old.

3 Responses to “Classroom mobs, mayhem and murder”

  1. iKids on the March | The Ridg on the REV Says:

    [...] [...]

  2. Simon Robinson Says:

    I concur John. On all counts I think. The article appears a bit “sensational”. Your “tabloid” description sits well. As a teacher at an all girls school I can report they are very adept consumers but not so good at the producing/contributing. It’s a work in progress.
    There’s a reason why we’re called teachers. There are benefits some experience and fully matured brain bring to the table.

  3. John Larkin Says:

    Thank you for the comment Simon. I agree, we are in the midst of a transition period. I encourage my students to try and take their online experience in directions that create productive or practical outcomes. I like to see the development of communities. It is good to see students collaborate on sites that promote community involvement…

    The Toddycats Blog

    The History of Malta and associated community site created by a Year Nine student at my school:

    I feel this type of involvement and publication has more merit that aggregating ‘friends’ on MySpace.

    Cheers, John