Digital Leaners Need Parents and Teachers To Guide Them

Digital Learners Can’t Do It On Own

Barry Joseph Says They Need Adults To Guide Them

By Barry Joseph

Published August 29, 2012, issue of August  31, 2012.

You know me, right? I’m the one you call to fix your computer or set the  clock in your car, the one you can count on to have the latest electronic  gadgets.

But I am coming to you now as an educator with the unique privilege (and  challenge) of working with today’s generation of so-called “digital natives.” I  am here to explain that there is no such thing as a self-directed learner — or,  perhaps more the point, to explain that parents and educators still matter.

My techno-passion was first piqued about 30 years ago, just a few months  before I became a bar mitzvah, when I began learning an arcane language with an  unforgiving syntax: Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, otherwise  known as BASIC. Yes, at 12 years old, as an upper-middle class kid on Long  Island, I was learning how to program a computer. Those initial classes led me  to join some of the first online communities, and I even engaged in some pretend  hacking of government agencies.

Back then I learned a lot in school, but I was also learning a lot at home,  on my own. Today, as an after school educator training urban youth to use  digital media to address global issues, it is hard to say which shaped my career  path more: my formal education or my informal, interest-driven learning. You  could say that my childhood passions, which once marginalized me as a nerd, have  now gone mainstream. In fact, the computer skills I pursed as a child are now  essential for all young learners, and they are acquired through playing video  games, texting on cell phones, networking on Facebook, sharing videos from  YouTube and more.

I can sympathize with the instinct to critique the time today’s youth devote  to digital media, as well as the instinct to see it as separate from their  education. But all this does is reinforce the gap between school subjects and  students’ real lives. The opposite approach, however, is no better. We shouldn’t  presume that inviting the digital into our learning environments requires us to  fade into the background. Doing so plays into the myth of the self-directed  learner.

What is this myth? I see it in action all the time. Take, for example, the  new video “The Voice of the  Active Learner,” posted on YouTube by Blackboard, an educational technology  company. It paints a portrait of today’s young self-directed learners as  superheroes breaking away from the guidance of an outdated educator.

“Very soon I will be in your classroom,” the young student challenges. “I  will not take out a pencil or open a textbook … To learn I look online because  the classroom is not enough for me … it’s your challenge to keep up with  me.”

The taunts of this ponytailed cartoon character can be a source of deep  anxiety for many educators and parents. But the truth is that there is no need  to worry.

Yes, digital media can support youth to form deep engagement and pursue their  own learning. The danger comes in presuming that if only the well-intentioned  but old-fashioned adults would get out of the way and let the computer work its  magic, a million minds would blossom. But this is not the time for us to admit  defeat. In fact, now is the time for us to claim our unique role in the new  learning ecologies of the digital age.

The MacArthur Foundation, for example, recently switched from over two  decades of funding school-based education reform to what they now call Connected  Learning — promoting changes in how youth learn and how we adults can  support them. Connected Learning, in short, encourages youth to pursue knowledge  or expertise about something that gets them excited while receiving support from  both their peers and the institutions around them. From MacArthur’s perspective,  we have to stop asking, “What is a child learning?” which focuses on the  outcomes, and ask instead, “Is the child engaged?” which focuses on the  experience of learning and creating a need to know.

The myth of the self-directed learner suggests youth can do it on their own.  But, in fact, they need our help to develop that need to know. Sure, we can all  point to an exceptional young person, but most don’t know how to pursue their  own interests. They don’t yet know their own minds. That is where we come  in.

To ignite their “need to know” we need to train young people to learn how to  learn, to be able to navigate the rich “learning ecologies,” or networks, they  will cultivate throughout their lives. We already know how to help them navigate  their identities as they move in and out of Jewish contexts — why should  navigating between their online and offline lives be any different?

The fact is, I may have developed an interest in computers as a teenager, but  I could never have pursued that interest without the active engagement of the  adults around me. My parents introduced me to my first computer class, while my  teacher nurtured within me an aesthetic appreciation of computer code. The  anonymous adults who ran my favorite online bulletin boards counseled me on safe  online practices and provided me with invaluable leadership opportunities that  inform how I teach to this day. The technology might have offered me the  opportunity to pursue my own interests, but thanks to the adults around me I  also learned how to do that.

Will today’s youth receive the support I enjoyed to apply their new skills  and knowledge, learned through digital media use, to better themselves and the  world around them? Or will they be left to fend for themselves?

The choice is not up to them. It’s up to us.

Barry Joseph directs the Online Leadership Program at Global  Kids, Inc., and is writing the first book on seltzer  water.

                       

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        We at the URJ  couldn’t agree more with Barry Joseph. Kids today need both traditional and  online curricula that are integrated and where adults can guide the learning  process using both tools.
        This is the thinking that led us to create  Mitkadem Digital, an online companion to the URJ’s Hebrew curriculum. Not only  is Mitkadem Digital created to appeal to the various learning skills and styles  of students, but it is made to give educators the ability to customize the  program to better suit their needs. The Mitkadem learning management system  allows teachers and educators to track student progress, upload their own  lessons, and manage their classrooms online.
        Online Jewish learning  should not exist in a vacuum, but with the guidance of professional and  inspiring educators.
        Michael Goldberg Publisher &  Editor-in-Chief, URJ Books and Music

        0 replies ·  active  26 weeks ago

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            Read more: http://forward.com/articles/161499/digital-learners-can-t-do-it-on-own/?p=all#ixzz2NNEwvakt

            One response

            1. You are so right. I find out about this constantly.
              Amazing article.

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