Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Problem With Debates About Learning

Today I read a great piece in the Huffington Post by Don Tapscott: New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark.

What intrigues me about such debates - if you take into account the 'lively' comments section accompanying the article - is that these changes aren't really either/or propositions, nor are they really linked to human generations. Technological and media generations - yes. New technologies and media will prompt new responses. There's a strong temptation to claim that 'younger' generations, however, think differently because they use these new technologies and are exposed to new media. Yet, from my own experience, there are technologies and media I've picked up very quickly, because they suit the way I think and do things, not because I'm of the generation who grew up with them. I find the iPad helps me enormously, but I'm frustrated with mobile phones. I enjoy using Twitter, but I'm not really a gamer. These responses have nothing to do with my age or demographic and I haven't changed how I think. My use of the iPad and other media like Twitter reflects my early habits of reading several books at once, writing fan fiction and filking (before the latter were known as such). My dislike of mobile phones relates more to my general dislike of phones altogether (I do have a phone - it's a 1960s red bakelite phone that you literally dial) and just as I was never really mad about Monopoly, Scrabble, charades and games in general, I've not really been interested in gaming.

There are also, believe it or not, teenagers who have trouble working with technologies and media that are current. In terms of teaching, I notice all the time that students will respond in incredibly diverse ways to the techniques and approaches that I utilise. It's never a one-size fits all proposition. Technologies and media have simply highlighted a certain way of going about the processes of gaining and using knowledge and information. In a sense, it's enabled certain thinkers who were previously under a handicap when stuck with just textbooks and liquid paper.

Tapscott suggests: "Searching for information on the Internet is obviously a different exercise than reading a book. You read or scan until you have found what you wanted, and then you click on a keyword to hunt for more information. Unlike the journey you take when you read a book, no one is holding your hand or serving as your guide. You're on your own. But it requires the same skills you need to read a book -- plus the ability to scan, navigate, analyze whether information is pertinent, synthesize, and remember what question you're trying to answer as you click on the links."

Tapscott's comment reminded me of how I'd approach school assignments by taking information from random sources and putting it together in unlikely ways. I rarely utilised the books I was directed to absorb. I didn't have the internet, but I used books and magazines in much the same way I now use the internet. Of course, today when I happily click through google books, I remember my childhood of random library raids and think 'this is so much easier'. I'm enabled now. Just as alternative literacies have come out from under the shadow of the book.

In essence, I've not 'grown up digital'. I was just waiting for the digital age.

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