Play gets short shrift in school; new media picks up slack
Children learn through play, a fact seldom included in school curriculum standards. Could the creativity and social interaction facilitated by digital devices be just the playful break that kids need?
A lightbulb went on when I read “Learning for a World of Constant Change” by authors John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas. I think I understand now why there’s so much cognitive dissonance at the intersection of new media and learning, not to mention “online safety.” It has a lot to do with how media has changed, and parents and educators are still trying to catch up.Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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Media is no longer just something through which content is communicated, like a book, periodical, blackboard, TV set, etc. It’s not even just a tool for making things (like stories, videos, blogs, photos, etc.). It’s also an environment – but not just an environment around the acquiring of knowledge or for creating or expressing ourselves. It’s an environment for collaborating with others. And then not just collaborating but participating in something much larger than, say, a classroom project – participating in society. Media is a social context – an environment for participating in and changing the world.
Born playful, not digital
This is the media our kids and students work and play with. Then they go to school. [They're not born digitally literate – not at all – but they are born playful. They are born to learn through play, including social play. Though digital media is perfect for that, they're not digital natives, they're playful natives.]
Media has always been part of learning, but not the kind that’s just as bottom-up as top-down and one-to-many. To put it mildly, media as a set of creative tools and a social context that can be classroom-size or planet-spanning, depending on how you use it, is daunting to those of us schooled in the Industrial Age model of using mass media for mass production education. It’s easy to understand the cognitive dissonance being felt by teachers and most of the rest of their peers, including parents, schooled to teach approved, carefully crafted and packaged knowledge. Adding to it is students’ own cognitive dissonance around both the old kind of content and its mode of delivery (knowledge transfer). Because they can acquire knowledge on their own anytime, anywhere and because – now that media’s social – it’s contextual and participatory, they’re less and less comfortable with the knowledge-transfer mode of learning.
Parents’ tough dilemma
“We’re educating at what might well be the most change-filled, disruptive moment in education history,” writes dad, educator, and author Will Richardson. And yet – although many of us, including those who can’t afford private alternative schools, are cobbling together blends of traditional and Internet school, home study, and other alternatives – we have to send our kids to these places that tie up so much of their time “learning” information that’s less and less relevant to their futures (see this comment to Will’s post by Michele Bernhard).
So as a fellow parent of a high school student, I know exactly how Will feels about sending his kids off to school this year:
“I’m less and less confident that the emphasis of their time in school will be dedicated to inquiry, to exploring their passions, to helping them create real, meaningful work that lives in the world and just maybe changes it for the better. As much as their teachers might want that, the reality is as a system, we’ve hunkered down against any real innovation, cut budget and vision regarding technology, and decided to pursue the more traditional paths for “excellence” as in number of AP tests taken, high state test scores, SAT scores…whatever it takes to get us a high ranking in a state magazine’s annual list. It’s depressing.”