Sunday, February 25, 2007

Marc Prensky at VSTE

Marc Prensky, whose tag line is "enrage me or engage me," is the keynoter for VSTE this year. Here are my notes that I took as I listened to the keynote:

As an introduction, he is going through the changes in our society and how that plays out in the classroom. It is the technology, in fact, that is distancing students and teachers. According to Prensky, we need to talk to our students to really find out what is going on in their lives and how we, as educators, can be more receptive to them.

What do we learn when we talk to kids?

They aren't little us's anymore.
Kids see technology totally integrated into everything we do.
Kids are bored at least 50% of the time in school.

"It's no attention deficit...I'm just not listening!"

Primary message is that for today's students to learn, engagement rather than content is the #1 goal.

So, the question is, "Does technology help us engage our students?" Not necessarily, according to Prensky. That doesn't make it automatically engaging and he used the example of PowerPoint.

He discussed the idea of how to evaluate our students' engagement.

He reviewed his distinction between the digital natives and the digital immigrants. Immigrants have an accent. That's your foot in the past. He gave some examples: printing out our emails OR even worse having your assistant print out your emails. We memorized phone numbers. Knowing DOS commands. Not going to the Internet first for the information. Thinking "real-life" only happens only off-line.

Digital immigrants teach by: delivering content, presenting, telling, linear, one thing at a time, one size fits all, face to face

Digital natives learn by: being engaged, multitasking, personalized, gameplay

The models of technology are top-down: someone will tell is what is good.

Students have to help create content so they will be engaged. That is known as bottoms-up...students can say what they need and what they can contribute. We have to involve the students in everything we know.

What is our job? Teaching or watching our students learn? He says it's the latter.

He listed a bunch of tools including MoSoSo, which I never heard of.

MoSoSo is mobile social software.

So the kids say, don't try to keep up, you can't. You'll only look stupid.

What teachers need to know is to teach that aren't familiar and that they haven't fully mastered. Make the effort to understand the new technologies so they can help the students evaluate things like quality. What's a good podcast? A bad one?

Prensky's advice was to partner with our students. Let students do what they do well. What do the teachers know how to do well? We know how to evaluate, how to put value on things, provide context. Just because it's easy to cut and paste something, that doesn't mean you understand the concept of intellectual property.

How should teachers use new tool?

Wikipedia: students can write entries, evaluate entries, but the lesson is that there is a difference between searching and researching. The "re" in research says we have to use more than more source. Use this as a chance to discuss different types of copyright.

IM: design some instant messaging into the classes, then evaluate the schemes to figure out if they add value to the class, and the lesson is informal versus formal language. IM is an informal language that shouldn't be used in formal contexts.

Phone-based cameras: have kids take pictures of all sorts of things, use them in photoshop then discuss the issues of truth vs. manipulation

Why do we need technology in our school? Metaphor: kids used to grow up in the dark intellectually. They had a very narrow focus without access to the outside world. In school, we started showing them the light. But today's kids grow up in the light. They are already connected before they come to school. So in school, we take away those connections. We are putting them back in the dark. And that's the danger. Now we're becoming the people who pull kids out of the light into the darkness.

So, here's the question: How can we turn on the lights for these kids?

Education is bifurcated: teach legacy stuff during the day and then after school they are involved in future learning. The sad part is when we hear that organizations are bypassing the schools to do their work. He quoted the MacArthur Foundation that after school programs are really the place to effect change and work with students.

Can School Compete? We have two purposes: teaching our kids and keeping our kids safe. If you wonder, which we care about more, which teacher would get fired more quickly? Probably the one who didn't keep them safe.

Discussed a documentary where they compared a prison to a high school across the street:

Four Switches:

Understanding the students: they are living a whole new life that includes doing stuff online that we did in other ways.

Generating engagement: engagement is changing and demands different ways of engaging
The cell phone is their favorite tool and it can be a tool for us to use.

Achieving mutual respect: many educators disrespect their students because we put down their attention span. We put down gaming.

He did discuss games a bit. Some kinds are "mini-games: that take five minutes to two hours. The kids are really playing more complex games. They produce deep learning with engagement. We are learning more and more about what students are doing when they are playing games. How do we harness the power of games?

Two things:

Respect students by asking them about games that relate to what we are discussing.
Rethink our instruction based on game-based principles: what are the goals? the goal of a game is to achieve something or be a hero. what are the decisions? In games, we make decisions constantly. In education, our kids don't make decisions. You learn by making decisions, getting feedback and making adjustments. We need to have connectivity. There is hardly anything such as the stand alone game...you are online with lots of people. The games adapt to each individual student. Games balance cooperation and competition. Games do things over and over (iteration). We don't iterate in our classrooms; we don't ask students "what sucked?" And we don't think about fun.

The fourth switch is the change and moving along with the change. We move with the changing technology. The kids really only know rapid change.

Rafe Kotter, A Theory of Fun: "Fun is the art of mastering a problem mentally."

We need to stop walking backwards into the future. The students are the only ones used to changing technology. Our job is to involve our students in what we do.

What can I do?

Turn on the lights! Make real efforts to understand our students, generate engagement, achieve respect, and deal with change. Even with the standardized tests, we need to engage our students.

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