Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Looking for the shift key

"Shift happens". That is the theme of the above 8-minute slide show, "Did You Know 2.0", about the pace of technological change. Aimed at American parents, educators and legislators, it makes a strong point that, in terms of globalization, we do ourselves and our children a favour by facing the fact that "we live in an exponential world".

I sent my April 17 article called "Snail mail in a post-fax world" to my ex-boss, who is featured there in my story of how, thirty years ago, I resisted his early adoption of the new fax technology. He currently teaches a course where he stresses "embracing technology", and kicks off his class with the above video.

I found myself watching it with double vision. As a parent, I am cheering my tech-savvy son on. But personally, I look at these daunting statistics from the other side of the digital divide. The video quotes Albert Einstein: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." On a cognitive level, I can see the big picture. But on an experiential level, I feel the same sort of isolation that I imagine is felt by parents who have immigrated into a culture with a different language. They moved out of their own comfort zone to give their children more advantages, but find themselves coping with communication barriers that impede their own daily life. One person described her experience of rapid technical change in terms of the experience of leaving your mother tongue behind -- with the added dimension, for her, that she had not chosen to leave home.

In my city, some newcomer neighbourhoods have bilingual street signs, just to help people without strong English skills to find their way around. I hope to be able to use this blog as a space to provide similar non-judgemental bridges for those who came of age before computers -- people I refer to as "COABC's". It seems to me that there are dilemmas being faced, even by those of us who are trying to "be part of the solution", around the new learnings implicit in retooling our skills. Many are ashamed to admit to fatigue, conflicting time priorities, lack of access, and different learning styles. In another posting here, for example, I direct parents and teachers to the British site BT Digital Champions, which gives children tools to teach digital skills to their grandparents. Shift does indeed happen. But a child grows in compassion at the same time as their granny grows in skills, when they sit together at a computer locating that key.

1 comment:

  1. “Shift Happens” is a favorite amongst the teachers at my kid’s school in Accra. It is a school which follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum from kindergarten through grade twelve. Topics are taught through an inquiry-based approach. Daniel’s new unit in Grade 3 is all about the human body, for example. The angle they will take on this in class is to look at “systems” – the human body is comprised of a bunch of inter-related and inter-connected systems. All the kids in his class, and there are twenty, will choose a particular system in the human body to focus on for the next few weeks until the Christmas break. Daniel came home and announced he was interested in the urinary system because, he said, it was not picked by anyone else, and, we suspect, because he has a particular fixation on his own hydration and where all that pee comes from.

    Lincoln Community School is international. There are no other Canadian kids in any of our three children’s classes. A large proportion of kids come from Asia, and will return to their home country when their parent’s assignment is complete. These parents have a real stake in the quality of education. Their kids need to fit back into the rote systems they came out of. These are the parents who are often most resistant to the inquiry-based pedagogy that the IB system uses. Inquiry-be-damned: they seem to want their kids to learn the names of all the oceans and the how to spell the names of all the major sea ports. They know that on the big test in New Delhi, there are certain patterns of problems that they want their kids to learn, and Lincoln School is not going to focus on these.

    For me one of the key points from “Shift Happens” is that you can’t possibly teach information content because there is too much of it out there already, and content is constantly expanding anyway. What schools should teach is problem solving approaches and research techniques – how to go about figuring something out, rather than the answer itself.

    So one of the skills kids these days learn is how to use the internet or computer tools as an intrinsic part of everything they do. Joshua, our six year old, is learning chess on the computer and he figures that the point of the game is to make as many moves as possible, because the program has a side-bar move count (no one has told him yet about the King). As a normal add-on to any homework assignment, Maya, our eleven year old, will illustrate it with something from “Google Images”. We had to buy her a cell phone this week in order to call us to take her home from her Pantomime practices on the other side of town. She has already included photos of everyone in her address book on her phone, something I’ve never had the patience to figure out!