Sacred Fears, and Why We Cherish Them

So, here’s what happens.

Today’s students seem to meld the impossible. They’re wired, yet socially adept. They stare at tiny screens, yet enjoy camping and cycling and sports. They score high SATs, yet enjoy counter-culture social messages. New communication mediums seem to bring them closer together, instead of isolated. “Expert learner” becomes the norm instead of the exception, as it should be in our easy-content-access environment.

Roll the tape back to the beginning: didn’t we want computers for students for a more individualized learning experience? The computers were supposed to empower. Twenty-five years later, there is ongoing enthusiasm to use them, explore, communicate, create and mash.

In an earlier post today, I noted how some students are hauntingly intelligent– their insights and awareness are startling. In some ways, teachers and adults maintain limited archtypes of students in mind, pretending they are less metacognitive than they are. We also can’t believe that they socially synthesize new mediums and tools so easily, because when we look at “gamers” and “geeks” of our own generation they seem isolated and side-tracked. The reasons we keep shouting “slow down, slow down” may be weaker than we’re comfortable admitting.

Wired CoverThis morning during breakfast, I read several articles in the latest Wired Magazine. The theme of the issue is the “New World of Games,” and the basic argument is that games are now becoming more open-ended and involving the “second processor” of the gaming environment (the player’s own mind).

Within all games, even Chess, there is a “possibility space” that exists between the set beginning and ending state. The new games are expanding this space, to enable players to have much more complete social and creative control. At the high end, these experiences may be at the same cultural level as participating in the creation of literature.

Again, I roll back the tape to 1989– the main reason I put computers in college writing labs was that word processing could “extend the compositional environment” in which students could think and re-think their ideas and examples for a longer period of time as they composed. The revision process as play– technology enabled more of this, just as the written word did centuries before.

But at this point, I’m rambling. It’s just that these recent experiences remind me that we need to be aware of risks, dangers, mis-use, time sinks and all the other problems with technology, but not close our minds to the potential and opportunities. The core reasons why we use educational technology are still there, and in some cases are blossoming.

We also need to respect our students’ ideas and involvement in the process, and learn more from their views and ideas.

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