Respect and Collaboration

One thing that continues to amaze me about technology and students is the level of enthusiasm students show for using the new tools. These “digital natives” seem to have an innate desire to want to learn and master the tools, especially in the late Lower School and Middle School years. In Upper School, many students have stabilized, mostly because they create fixed and oftentimes inaccurate decisions about their abilities and needs in terms of technology.

Part of the “negotiation” mentioned in the last post is to what extent we “allow” the tools to be used. This isn’t unique in education– my eight year-old son has a passion for reading, but his teachers much decide to what extent he can chose the material he reads (given that Treasure Island may not be on the immediate booklist for third grade). Technology use, however, is more pervasive across multiple subjects. Thus, the “allow” decisions are harder to make.

This, I believe, is why David Warlick is having trouble with the terms “teaching” and “learning.” Both imply more one-way modes of transfer that are correct, given that students are capable of making at least some of their own content and tool choices, and teachers to some extent should respect and support those choices. This respect is the first step in creating more of a collaborative work environment with students, with the teacher as manager/facilitator, as well as appraiser of the work.

The philosophy of a school may be defined by the level of respect and collaboration that takes place, and in some ways I believe this is different than traditional “constructivist” approaches. Students who branch out into successful research forays (or creative productivity) using technology are not necessarily “constructing their own knowledge.” Instead, they may be developing their own sense of intellectual competency as independent learners, especially if their work is respected by both teachers and peers.

All of this may sound optional, but there may be “escape hatches” for students who know they are capable but not respected. I have met new teachers who are continuing their graduate studies online, for example. They started with traditional graduate classrooms, but then found that they actually preferred the online courses. The preference is based not only on the “convenience” issue, but that they feel more involved and respected when doing collaborate projects and having online discussions. The technology serves as a “leveler” that they appreciate and felt that they didn’t have in traditional classes.

Now, not everything can become collaborative and built on students’ areas of affinity and enthusiasm. There are plenty of subjects and materials that may best be taught in traditional manners. For the full and complete development of students, however, it appears that a balance may need to be struck between sage and collaborator, as far as the teacher is concerned.

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