As most Georgia students return to school today, I want to share a provocative essay about the way kids communicate today and what the future holds for them. (See earlier blog on how today’s classrooms should build on how kids prefer to communicate, including text messaging.)
Among the discussion points: Rather than assigning and judging college students on term papers, should we evaluate their writing skills on blogs and online forums where they often bring far more fervor and elegance?
The New York Times piece focuses on a new book by Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.
In “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn,” Davidson contends that 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet. (Davidson blog on these issues.)
The Times column explores a topic we have discussed here many times, whether today’s students — wired from the womb — are learning outmoded skills and being held to yesterday’s standards.
On average, American teens — 75 percent of whom now own cell phones — exchange 1,500 text messages each month. In its survey, Nielsen found that younger teens outpace their older siblings in texting; teenagers 13 to 17 send 3,339 texts per month. In 2010, teens sent 8 percent more texts than a year earlier.
Should schools be embracing texting in the classroom rather than banning it?
I can recall visiting my high school freshman’s technology class during an open house a few years ago and realizing within seconds that the teens in the class were years beyond the material, that the course was designed as if it were 1999 rather than 2009. The instructor talked about technology as a set of basic life skills that teens had to acquire. But technology was not a life skill for these 14-year-olds; it was their life.
According to the Times piece:
Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”
What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”
In response to this and other research and classroom discoveries, Ms. Davidson has proposed various ways to overhaul schoolwork, grading and testing. Her recommendations center on one of the most astounding revelations of the digital age: Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as “distraction.”
A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.
The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog