Typicality

I picked this topic up from a post by Will Richardson. He passes on a request from an Edutopia writer asking for student input on how teachers should use technology in classrooms. The post then goes on to outline some examples that are very much in keeping with a view promoting student multimedia authoring. I always interpret this approach as proposing that teachers are out of touch with the needs and interests of their students.

Here is my concern with such an approach. It really concerns me what one might say from such input. Will it offer insights into what a typical student would like to experience as a learning experience and what a typical student would be prepared to implement as a learning project.

Two quick examples:

1) I teach educational psychology to undergraduates and some in this class are future teachers. These are both students who have opinions about how they should be taught and students who will soon be teachers. I am in the middle of a simple cooperative project in which students within a pair write on a designated topic and then send this material to their partner who analyzes the content using a technique I provide and then returns the results to the writer. Simply put, the project uses some very basic technology skills – prepare a document and save in RTF format, send as an attachment. I ask them to save a document in rtf format because students use different word processing programs and use word processing programs of different vintages. You would think I am asking them to code in C++. Many cannot understand my explanation of why requiring a common format might be important and many cannot figure out how to send an attachment. Often my instruction are ignored, some just send the file as it is saved and let their partner deal with it and some cut and paste into the email they send. In the same class, I have a computer science major and we talk about open source software. A translation program others could use was recommended.

If I was to inform other college profs on student interest in cooperative email projects in large lecture courses, do you think I should forward the student who recommends a format translation program as a prod to change their methods of teaching?

2) When I was a kid, I received a printing press as a Christmas present. I wanted this printing press very badly. Once I had it, I discovered that it did not come with enough letters (the rubber type you used to prepare your content for printing). I saved my money and bought more, but I also had to resort to tactics such as substituting 1s for ls.

I remember I created a sports page. I would write an account of the week’s playground softball games and I would include the pro baseball standings in the final document. Writing was challenging – I had to limit what I said to the type I had available. Probably good preparation for Twitter. I would take the pages i produced to school and distribute to my classmates. Circulation of about a dozen or so if I remember correctly.

I am the only kid I know who had a printing press, but I bet I would have been the kid my teacher would volunteer as an example of student authoring.

One of the long-term problems I have with the approach taken by many reform advocates is that they seize on the interests and capabilities of a few to argue for change for others. I wish the capabilities of digital natives were as advertised. I have been waiting for this group to show up in my college classes for several years now. I am thinking they must only enroll in colleges on the east coast.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an advocate of the participatory web and the potential of these tools and tactics for learners. However, I think we must work with students to develop necessary tool skills and apply these capabilities in productive ways. The interests and skills of some are and have always been unrepresentative.