‘Hour of Code’ and Digital Natives

During Hour of Codea global event to promote coding skills this week, we strive to ramp up digital literacy.

But what constitutes digital literacy? There are many definitions.

Microsoft looks at it through an ICT lens – where ICT means ‘Information Communication Technology.’ But evidently there is much more it encompasses. How about building ‘digitally inclusive communities’ as is defined by the Institute of Museum and Library Services?

It goes beyond simply learning how to be safe online, or managing one’s Instagram page. It’s about teaching young people, beginning in elementary school, the ‘literacy’ for being successful in civic or economic spaces. It’s a mistake to assume that ‘Digital Natives’ are automatically, or inherently competent in these areas.

I have previously cited Common Sense Media writer, Jessica Laura who makes the point that just as anyone who has grown up speaking English, still takes English classes, those growing up digital, still need to learn about digital literacy.

The folks behind Hour of Code often talk about the need for foundation skills related to problem-solving, logic and creativity. Similar to how all students learn about photosynthesis, they ought to also understand how algorithms and coding underpins how their world works – or does not. There are 500,000 current job openings in the US that require computer skills, they say.

Please don’t ‘Like’ this post – read it

Look, you are free to not read this. I’m mainly concerned about people clicking on links or forwarding them, while not reading beyond the first two sentences.

If you got this far, Thanks!

I run into issues of young people not ‘seeing’ information in front of them, because their brains have become trained bypass information on a screen and look for images and videos. They are good ‘readers’ as the data shows. They borrow a lot of books, for sure. However they seem inattentive to information, even on beautifully laid out web pages.

Does it have something to do with our newfound desire to share, reducing our appetite to absorb, and for conversations, as Emerson Csorba says. [“Online sharing and selfies erode the value of our private lives“]








The article for the above quote is here at the New York Times article on Digital Connectedness. Worth a read.

If you got this far, I’m flattered. Thanks!

So how do students read in the digital era? Or rather, how is reading taught today to digital natives? Sadly, in many places, no differently from the pre-digital era. I read a long (warning: long!) article in Education Week, where reporter  says that “practitioners have few guidelines, and many are simply adapting their lessons as they see fit.” Those in literacy studies recommend that we adopt a simultaneous approach, teaching traditional and digital reading skills.

My gut feeling is we assume too much that seeing young people click on topics and pages. It makes us believe that they click, therefore the must be reading. The linear experience is being remodeled by a hyperlinked, non-linear experience even while we watch. Given the powerful desire to share instead of absorb, the non-linear experience may be not as great as advertised.

If you got THIS far, I would like to talk to you! 

(There is, intentionally, no picture in this post. What made you read on?)

Since students are digital, are classrooms too analog?

I just spoke to a parent of a student, frustrated that the standard in a so-called ‘high achievement’ school seems to be dropping. The unspoken question seems to be “why are schools still stuck in the Reading, Writing, “Rithmetic rut?” Or, as some wonder, why are schools not educating the whole child?

A reports earlier this month in TIME magazine, Why it’s time to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ is enough to make one agitated!

Many studies say that rut in question, is an obsessive exam mentality that needs an overhaul. School systems have become fixated with preparing children to pass exams, but don’t have the resources to prepare them for the other exam out there –the exam known as Life! Which is exactly what that parent was anxious about.

US policymakers have been alerted to this.recent Harvard study of student achievement on global perspective (EducationNext.Org) found that unless we fix math and reading skills, the outlook in the global economy looks grim.

Not that this is exclusively an US problem.

Europeans, too are worried. A recent study on how education and training is meeting the needs of the digital world and the European economy (‘The Future of Learning: Preparing For Change’) say that schools need to make a fundamental shift if Europe is to remain competitive.  Students will need to be competent in “problem solving, reflection, creativity, critical thinking, learning to learn, risk-taking, collaboration, entrepreneurship.”

Should we take our curriculum back to the drawing board?  Should we redesign the classroom?

Yes, but... If there are is one thing I am frustrated about, it is the rush to plunk computers in front of students, and think this will solve all our problems. The argument goes like this. Our kids are digital natives, so getting them to take down notes on ruled paper, and listen to a teacher is not the best way to engage them.

I work in digital and analog environments, and have been a big advocate of bridging the gap between these two realms. That does not mean replacing one with the other. A tablet will not automatically make a child collaborative and yearn for deeper knowledge, just as (to paraphrase an old saying) owning a library card will not automatically make a person well read. Preparing students for a 21st century workforce requires us to make them much more than just digital. The European JRC European Commission study calls for education to be more “personalized, collaborative, and informalized.” One could write an entire paper on these three areas.

Sure let’s redesign the classroom, but let’s not discount the importance of a value added teacher who brings extra-curricular knowledge into his/her material. In fact, the term ‘High Value Added Teacher’ is now being used by one Harvard study –see video below.

Also, on a more optimistic note, there’s a great experiment about  ‘Active Learning Classrooms’ worth watching. I like how it is not just the students, but the teacher who is adapting to the new learning classroom as well. Inspiring video!