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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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June052006

Fatherhood and the Future of Online Learning

On Friday night, I became a dad.

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I know you didn’t come to this blog to see baby pictures - not that I could resist - but I don’t think I could write my next post without thinking of little Kayleigh coming into the world less than 72 hours ago. So I thought I would ask myself: what types of things will schools be doing with the Internet when it’s time for her to go to school?

Of course, there’s no exact way one could guess what the Internet will be like in 10 to 15 years, though it’s certainly fun to ponder it. Try thinking back to 10 or 15 years ago and imagine where we were then. Do you think we could have foreseen a time when literally one billion people would be online? Do you think we would have imagined a world where tens of millions of people publish online journals, where hundreds of thousands of photos and videos get posted by average citizens every day? Would we have guessed that websites like Myspace would enrapture countless teenagers - and horrify an equal number of adults at the same time?

Actually, in many ways, the answer is yes, because there were many pioneering educators who had a constructivist vision of the Internet. From the earliest days of the Web, educators have imagined an online world where young people would be active contributors to knowledge. Visionaries like Odd de Presno of Kidlink, Al Rogers and Yvonne Andres of Global Schoolhouse, Al Weis of ThinkQuest and Peter Copen of IEARN recognized very early on that the Internet could be more than just a place for selling stuff and checking weather forecasts. These initiatives, all of which date back to the late 80s and early 90s, shared a common outlook, whether they spelled it out or not. (Actually, I just realized that IEARN was actually created while I was a junior in high school - that just blows me away.) They recognized that students were more than just vessels for storing state capitals and multiplication tables; these kids shared the potential for creating rich, original knowledge that had relevance in the real world.

Take IEARN, for example. An international network of educators and students, IEARN encourages learners to create online projects that cross political borders, exchanging ideas to build better understanding among different cultures. There’s no one official curriculum that’s enforced on all learners; instead, teachers and students work together to craft authentic, socially relevant projects that will help them learn about the world while simultaneously making a difference in it. Or consider Global Schoolhouse’s International Schools Cyber Fair. More than one million students from over 100 countries have developed educational websites with a community focus. This year’s competition featured websites focused on subjects ranging from Lou Gehrig’s disease to the ancient history of Rome to violin instruction.

But when you take a look at the lists of schools that are involved in projects like the Cyberfair, a pattern often emerges. International schools. Private schools. Home-schooled children. Students working independently of their public school. Despite the wealth of constructive engagement taking place in these projects, the majority of US schools aren’t participating. In an age of NCLB and high-pressure standardized testing, truly creative uses of the Internet are all too often considered a luxury.

Meanwhile, the Internet continues to evolve. There’s no way I can predict exactly where the Net will be when my little Kayleigh is enrolled in school, but certain trends will probably continue. Bandwidth will grow and grow, allowing for richer multimedia experiences. The range of wireless Internet access will expand exponentially, allowing connectivity from almost any location in the US. Mobile phones will become even more powerful computing devices - perhaps the primary device for many Internet users. More “Web 2.0” applications will allow the average Internet user to publish their own original content and share it through global online communities. We’ll even start to see the growth of what might be called Web 3.0 applications: while Web 1.0 and 2.0 allowed users to read and write on the Web, Web 3.0 will allow us to execute our own software and design our own personal virtual worlds. Think this sounds crazy? Take a look at virtual environments like Second Life, where people create their own 3D online personas, homes, money-making businesses, even islands. Web 3.0 is already taking the Net by storm and most of us don’t even realize it.

So where does little Kayleigh fit into all of this? Being the digital ubergeek that I am, no doubt I will encourage Kayleigh to use the Internet to express herself in ways that educate and enrich others. She’ll be of the latest generation of digital natives, which will come close to including everyone under age 40, as Michael Pinto recently prognosticated on PBS NOW. My Dutch friend Jak Boumans has already described Kayleigh as the first PetaKid, in contrast to the first two generations of digital natives - MegaKids and GigaKids, as he calls them. Whether or not she takes to all of this technology will be up to her; I just hope that I can be a caring guide and loving protector as she travels down that road.

And while I know I’ll cherish observing her first digital steps, I’m not sure if I’m prepared to hold my breath when it comes to how she’ll use these skills in school. Today, the Internet in schools is dismissed as a distraction, a luxury, a threat. It’s nice to have around as a reference tool, sure, but anything that encourages kids to get creative and interact online is just too risky and time-consuming. Meanwhile, beyond the schoolhouse gate, today’s kids are using the Internet in ways most of us can barely comprehend, often without the guiding hand of media literacy coming from our schools.

I truly hope that when Kayleigh reaches the appropriate school age, her teachers will see the Internet as both a font and a forge of knowledge. Yet I fear that if the current fear-mongering continues, it will be a walled garden consisting only of networked multiple choice tests, e-report cards and reference tools that do little more than their offline equivalents. That’s certainly the “safe” way to go. But will it inspire Kayleigh to reach her fullest potential?

No matter what path she follows through school, I know I will be there, holding her hand, helping her develop a lifelong love of learning. When she’s old enough, Internet will be a part of it. I just wonder if our schools will feel the same way. -andy

Filed under : Policy

Responses

Congratulations, Andy. I don’t think anything has ever transformed my life and made me a better person as much as being a father.

My daughter is just finishing Kindergarten, and I’ve learned more about learning by watching her grow this far than I’ve learned in 15 years as a classroom teacher. My most incredible discovery is this - for most kids, those that are blessed with all the physical and cognitive skills that we usually take for granted, it would actually take a great expenditure of time and energy to stop them from learning. Kids can’t not learn - its what they are built for. It doesn’t matter if they are in a playground, a classroom, in front of a TV, at storytime at the library, playing games on a computer, or riding in the back seat of a car - kids are always learning.

Give your daughter a variety of experiences to learn from, and lots of love and support on the way, and she will do well. Your concern for her future shows that she’s already off to a good start!

Hi Andy.
Congratulations from an old timer. My baby just graduated to be a veterinarian, and I remember the excitement I felt when she was born -as if it were yesterday. Who knew then what my baby’s future would be? I certainly didn’t!

My baby introduced me to IMing before I was aware that kids were maintaining their social networks even after leaving high school for college. Who would have believed today’s ease of multiuser “conferencing” back in the 80’s EdForum days on CompuServe.

And I took a cue from MUDs and MOOs used by my young sons in the 90s to see Second Life in development. One of those sons was a gamer, and I tried to break him out of his “isolation”. I spent many dollars for his four year college degree in Medical Illustration.. only to see him head to Silicon Valley to be a game tester by profession. He has his dream job with a reference group who help create games used by tens of thousands of their peers.

Do you remember the old “Twistaplot” stories Scholastic developed for the Apple IIe’s?? You might have experienced them in middle school. The convergence of lifelike avatars and simulations, the concept of multiple story lines and digital moviemaking, all presage a future for your Kaileigh that will combine entertainment and education.. her “TV” will become interactive and controllable, not a passive “Read only” device. Internet 2, or the “Read/Write web” will come to us in our parlors before our schools. I predict that Kayleigh will probably use her “TV” to contribute stories to the world before she can read! And you will be there to help her until she takes over and her teachers learn from her.

Congratulations again, Andy, and hang on for the most exciting “ride” of your life!

Congratulations!! This is a great picture. The first week after birth is just so wonderful… (and the rest too :)) I do think it’s good to mix some personal stuff in professional blogs as it explains some of your thinking.. (but I struggle with it as well).

Congratulations, Andy. Coincidentally, my youngest graduates from high school this weekend. It’s been such a short time since I held his tiny form (well, he weighed ten lbs). But when he was born, I hadn’t heard of the Internet. Today, he makes videos with equipment you could wear on your belt, and publishes them on his blog for a small following of teenage friends.

The amazing thing is that he will study musicianship in college — a very old-world profession. Some things never die. Let’s hope they never do.

Again, congratulations.

David Warlick

This is the screen I got when I tried going to Second Life:
WARNING

Internet use is for class related projects only.

When you see this screen, the date, time (to the second), serial number of the computer, and website visited have been reported to the IS Division.

If you feel this site has been blocked in error, contact Mr. Portman in Information Systems.

P.S. Congratulations

Hi Dan,

I’m not surprised Second Life’s website is blocked, since SL is definitely for adults. People can do anything they want there, and let’s just say that they do. That’s not to say that it’s a den of iniquity, but it’s definitely a reflection of real life, with all the good and bad things that come with it.

Second Life actually has an experimental educational version that I’m hoping to access soon. The reason I say “hoping” is because they’re very rigorous about vetting adults before letting them go inside the place because they don’t want predators there.

The ironic thing about the website being blocked is that there’s nothing of particular interest on the website. It’s just where you go to register for second life. SL itself is conducted through a software client you have to download - it’s not a Web environment. -andy

I just wish that there was a way for teachers to go and experiment. Most of the cool stuff that I do in my classroom comes from what I do at home for fun. I just wish the word “play” wasn’t anathema to the world of education.

They would have to supply SL with a credit card # or a cell phone # for it to work. You can create your first avatar for free, but they do this to confirm that you’re an adult. It’s probably better they try it at home, since they might not even be allowed to install the client software at school, let alone the filters.

Congratulations, Andy! I hope baby and mother are doing fine.

thanks! they are doing very well - coming home tomorrow. -andy

I think it’s best to keep the internet open to students and educate them on how to handle it responsibly. Filtering and blocking is really slowing the growth of the internet in education.

“But when you take a look at the lists of schools that are involved in projects like the Cyberfair, a pattern often emerges. International schools. Private schools. Home-schooled children. Students working independently of their public school.”

I have been thinking about this situation for a number of years and have come to the conclusion that school as we know it is dead. The days of the little orange busses picking up children and educators sitting in classrooms is gone.

Online high school, alternative learning centers, home-schooling, international schools - such as you mentioned, Andy, and, oh, did I mention home-schooling? These and many other alternatives have tolled the death knell for traditional public schools.

I wonder if legislatures and teacher’s unions will recognize these alternatives and begin to work accordingly? I am not being cynical, but trying to recognize the world that my nephews and your Kayleigh live in.

Does anyone else recognize this “paradigm shift?”

I would love to say that I can see public schools in the forefront of using any/all technology that evolves over the next 10-15 years — especially the internet — but I would only be saying it with my fingers crossed! I teach 1st and 2nd graders in a public school setting so I KNOW that even little ones are capable of working in Flash and burning DVDs with movies they’ve created with the iLife suite! But, sadly enough, most of my kiddos leave me after 2 years and only touch a computer for a directed web “experience” or to use Word to type up a story that they’ve already written.

Luckily our district listens to the various buildings’ tech people (all of us are classroom teachers or media people) so internet restrictions have always been open to discussion. That seems to work well for us and is less crippling than what many other districts around the country are experiencing. I’m grateful for that.

The impetus for change so more classrooms stay abreast of technology will need to come from parents pushing their local school districts — not the legislature and not the teacher’s union. Both of those bodies are running scared because of NCLB and too much emphasis is being placed on testing and preparing for the tests. Parental pressure in a public school setting CAN make a difference and I encourage all tech-savvy parents to voice their opinions to administrators and, also, offer their expertise to a classroom. I believe in public schools (after 20 years of pushing the parameters of public education I can still say that!) and would love to see them rival some of the alternative settings mentioned. I have seen what can be done with kids using technology and I, too, want your sweet little Kayleigh to experience that garden that grows without walls built by fear!

Grats to you also being a new father myself i know how it turn the life around and you get new views of everything. I also have been involved in working with public schools here in sweden trying to teach other teachers howto use ICT in school.

I think there is two problems one have to solve one is the attitude of teachers. They tend to see ICT as an intruder and stealing time. Here we need to enlight them and show how they will earn time. Then they willingly take ICT to their heart. I seen this happen.

The other problem we have in sweden is that the level of knowledge about IT in public school teachers are too low. They need to strengthen this in their education.

Dear Andy:

My congratulations to both you and your wife.
I know I have been in the shadows for years, not that I have not been following what the two of you have been doing. The last four years I have been online teaching and it keeps me very busy.

I want to refresh your memory how I know you and your sweet wife. I used to work in the same building as your wife when I was at that Sparkman Center for Educational Technology in Denver, Colorado and she was working for the Encore Channels. Then you and I met at several NECC meetings for WWWEDU group. I will not be at NECC this year, it is to close to the 4th of July, I spend this weekend with my family at a Dude Ranch with my family.

By the way, I loved the baby pictures and those of both mommy and daddy.

Sincerely

Mimi Gilman
Educational Technology Consultant
The George Lucas Educational Foundation Faculty Associate
Lesley University Adjunct Instructor
P.O. Box 1091
Saratoga, WY 82331
mimigi@ix.netcom.com

Congratulations Andy, children give life a whole new meaning with every step they take. This is my first time posting a response - how exciting! I enjoyed the personal touch to your article, it gives a human side to technology often left out. My son is in Kindergarten. At five years old he is a strong reader and is computer savvy. He googles ‘games’ to find new games to play (but only when mommy or daddy is present), he captures pictures for wallpaper, saves them in his picture folder and changes them whenever the whim hits him (he really likes Spiderman :), he is PowerPoint friendly and eager to explore more.

His technology experiene is done at home, NOT in school. He has not been on a computer in class yet. He frequently asks me, “mommy, how come I can’t go on the computer in school?”

Until the walls come down on schools and children are permitted the opportunity to have and to share the world as their learning experience through technology, todays technology savvy children will lead dual lives. They will go to school, where they spend many hours, and get bits and pieces of an educational experience then go home and experience a world of learning that they have control.

How can schools keep the interest of technology savvy children if they are not offering learning with technology?

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