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Step Away from the Computer? – Here’s hoping the pendulum stops in the middle

I recently came across a Globe and Mail article by reporter Kate Hammer that described what, for many in today’s day and age, may seem a radical notion.  The article described an assignment (comprised of a staggering 100 questions) that was given to grade 6 students at a Waterloo, ON school.  The caveat was that the students could not use the internet to complete the assignment, which for many students, was a stunning notion.  While I may not agree with assigning what may appear to be a large number of quite low level (Bloom’s Taxonomy) questions (the phrase “to what end…”was echoing for me), what did resonate was this phrase from the article:

Assigning offline homework is part of a quiet revolt against computer-dependency in the classroom. Educators agree a Luddite future is not what they want: Digital literacy is essential. But teachers are finding ways to ensure their students hone critical thinking and curiosity skills that don’t require WiFi, and perhaps consider the possibility that Google isn’t omnipotent. (parag. 4)

While I may have worded that thought very differently, it is the focus on information seeking skills that is the focus and imperative for me in my daily work and in my beliefs around teaching and learning.  It is the necessity of asking critical questions about what type of question is being asked, what the BEST source of information would be, and where the best place would/could be to find these answers.  Often, information can be easily found online, but the bigger question may be how did it get there?  Who has provided the information?  What makes them an authority or expert?  How do we know that they are correct?  An article that I this summer (it again popped up within the context of my daily work this week – how serendiptitous) expresses this need well.  In his white paper Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century (2006), Jenkins writes:

Beyond core literacy, students need research skills. Among other things, they need to know how to access books and articles through a library; to take notes on and integrate secondary sources; to assess the reliability of data; to read maps and charts; to make sense of scientific visualizations; to grasp what kinds of information are being conveyed by various systems of representation; to distinguish between fact and fiction, fact and opinion; to construct arguments and marshal evidence. If anything, these traditional skills assume even greater importance as students venture beyond collections that have been screened by librarians and into the more open space of the web. Some of these skills have traditionally been taught by librarians who, in the modern era, are reconceptualizing their role less as curators of bounded collection and more as information facilitators who can help users find what they need, online or off, and can cultivate good strategies for searching material. (pp.19-20)

It can’t be an all or nothing argument.  The pendulum does not need to swing from all books to all digital.  I so quickly tire of arguments that are based on the all-or-nothing platform.  We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Critical thinking skills (or information literacy skills, etc.) are more vital than ever before in this day and age when we are drowning in information.  Additionally, it is key to point out that one of the huge benefits that occurred for Oscar (the student profiled in the article)  is that he got to make a connection with his Grandma and leverage her knowledge and experience to answer one of the questions.  This provided the bonus opportunity to connect with an overseas relative and, more importantly, create awareness that people and their experiences are sources of information.

The point of the exercise can’t linger on no-computer use versus all digital. That is looking at the issue from the wrong end and angle. I would hope that the teacher follows up with a rich discussion about the points that I have outlined above and then continues to challenge her students in future inquiries and assignments to thoughtfully and intentionally consider the best sources of information for each query and to actively pursue those avenues of investigation in an informed manner.

References:

Hammer, K. (2012, September 15). Step Away from the Computer. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 19, 2012, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/step-away-from-the-computer-screen/article4547435/

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thorne-enterprises/292027130/”>Jonathan Thorne CC</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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