Digital Nation

EXTRASINTERVIEWS

Marc Prensky

Prensky is the author of Don't Bother Me Mom -- I'm Learning and a leading proponent of video games as educational tools.

Topics

What Makes a Digital Native?
Prensky defines Digital Natives by their attitude towards technology: they expect it to work for them.

Education 2.0
The digital revolution is coming to classrooms at a slow pace that's frustrating to many kids.

The Future of Reading
Has the written word surpassed its usefulness? Prensky thinks most books are too long.

Ethics for Gen Y
Ethical questions are timeless, and Prensky thinks virtual simulations can teach old values to Digital Natives.

Games That Teach
Prensky believes video games are the future of learning.

Silence/Noise
For Digital Natives, music is the new silence.


TRANSCRIPT

Q: Is spending time reading books still important?

PRENSKY: Yes, spending time reading books is still important. But you don't have to read them to take in what's in a book. There are lots of ways, for example, audio books have gotten huge now. So, do you have to actually read and decode the squiggles on that page to get what is in that book? Absolutely not. And, then, if you wanted to, let's say it's a book you're reading for information, if you were doing it in audio you could speed it up in ways that were harder to do with reading. You could ... On the other hand, in a book, you could random access in other ways that you can't. But the biggest thing about books is that they're not connected to anything. And that has a certain advantage in that there's somebody's thesis or somebody's idea in one place. But typically a book is not just that. It's what you think of a book, what everybody else has thought of the book, what influences have come from that book; if it's a play, who's ever played it, what it has looked like, what it sounds out loud - alt those kinds of things which should be connected, but aren't in a standalone book. So the technology, what the technology does, is if a kid reads a book - say they're reading it online, or on a Kindle or anything - then they can connect. And the greatest example that I've seen of this recently is when I read Frank Rich's columns, which I love, you read them in the NYT in they're very good; you read them online in the NYT and they're all hyperlinks. So when he says something about something that you want to find out about - who is that person, it can be linked to a video, it can be linked to this - it's so much richer to read it that way. And that's just the beginning, we're just at the very beginning of this semantic Web and linking all these things together.

Q: But there are still whole books that you would hope kids read. You don't think it's an obsolete form, books going away?

P: I don't think... Well, it certainly won't go away in our lifetime. I think that in the non-fiction realm we will get to speeding up and abridgement. Most non-fiction books could be taken down to... and they do that in the business world all the time. And even most fiction books can be, because they are over-padded, like Dickens, who wrote by the word. So, do you really... are you really harmed by reading the Reader's Digest condensed versions of these books? It's not clear. I mean, the academics will tell you, Oh my God, but it isn't clear. And the wonderful book that just came out is how to talk about books you haven't read, and it's a terrific book that says, and other people make this argument, too, there are very few books that you have to have read. There are other books that you have to know what its about, or know just even the name of, and that's mostly the way we do, because you can't read everything. You can't possibly read everything, so you have to be very selective.

Q: No, but not reading at all, not reading any book at all, deprives you, if nothing else, the experience of engaging with a whole book, with what that thing is.

P: Well, I'm definitely for engagement, and I'm definitely for engagement with ideas, and I'm definitely with engagement with art, but I don't know that the book, which was for a long period of time, but not that long, maybe a couple of centuries, the way that people did this, that was the primary way, is the best way in the 21st century. People engage with the same stories through movies, now you can make the argument either way, they engage with those same stories through graphic novels; they engage with those same stories through things that are very episodic, like television. So reading a book, literally sitting there turning the pages of a book, yeah, it's good if it engages your mind, but most important is to engage your mind in something that's important.

Q: Do you think that the depth of that engagement is at all threatened by the lateral focus of the Internet, by all these associations. Do you think that prevents a certain kind of cognitive... that sense of heightened engagement?

P: I think that the word depth is thrown around a lot, and it bothers me because it is very undefined. And, yes, people should get, I think it is important that people get very engaged. Now that typically happens with something that you value, that is your passion, that you're passionate about. And that happens when you are passionate about something, you try to get more and more and more information and if you want you can go deeper and deeper, i.e., find more detail and find more nuance. But the... Why that has to be in a book is beyond me; it's only one particular way; some people like reading the encyclopedia; some people like finding things out on the Internet and exploring and going into depth by going broadly.

Q: It seems to many, and sometimes to me, that the only area that young people are going to go into depth about on the Internet is themselves. In other words, great depth about their own Facebook page, you know, and these are great monuments, and they are great achievements, but they're essentially narcissistic or solipsistic expressions of consumer preferences.

P: Well, I would say two things there. One is what you and I talked about before, that you can't just lump people into one group. If you're talking about the people who go to Harvard, or who are going to go to Harvard, they're going to be in a different, they're going to have a different reaction to all this stuff and be engaging with things. And they kids at Stuyvesant High School, I overheard them saying, well, yeah, I'd been reading this book and that book and I would love this, and that sounds right up my alley. And plenty of people are doing that. But what we don't do, on the other hand, is that we don't focus on what the kids do that they are passionate about on their own. And I heard a wonderful story in a bus the other day in New York, I heard a group of kids, and they had big accents and very strange and didn't sound like people that I'd necessarily want to associate with intellectually. And then one of them said, and you know, I'm a really big Civil War buff, and I know everything about the Civil War, and I have read everything, you can ask me any question about the Civil War and I will know the answer, and I was blown away. Here's this person, and I'm sure he doesn't share this very often, and ... who just loves the Civil War. And I'm sure he goes online, and he goes into books, and he gets into clubs and he gets into societies and he gets into societies because that's what he's passionate about. And that's what the Internet, and that's what technology... Books and librarians used to be the way to do that. But now it's much more easy to do it on your own. Kids used to be able to teach themselves only if they had access to the books or they had access to the library or they had somebody, some adult, around them who was willing to take the time to help them to look into themselves, which is rare outside of the rarefied classes or best schools or something. Now, any kid who is passionate about anything goes online and finds out.

Q: How do you get - and teachers are complaining about this, in the Internet era it seems to be harder to get kids to research or work in an area that they're not yet passionate about because they haven't experienced... Some things you need a learning curve in order to get passionate about it.

P: Well, yes, that's potentially possible, but I think that it's more... What I hear from the kids is that the schools are just forcing them to do things that they really don't care about, that they're really not interested in, that they feel are the past rather than the future. A great example is first (?) robotics. So here's this thing that Dean (Dean Kamen?) came and put together, and he's got kids incredibly passionate around the world about this robotics stuff, and draws in kids and their stories about how kids who never cared about math or science are now doing it in depth so that they can do these things... I think that, let me use the quote from Nic Negroponte, that learning does not come from discipline, but from passion. And it's the passion that's missing. We sort of say well you have to do these things and you have to read this and, God knows, if you read Homer long enough, maybe you'll get hooked on Greek stuff. Very little chance. Maybe if you meet somebody like a teacher who is passionate about Homer and they get you hooked on it; maybe if there's some small piece of Homer that you read that relates to your life in some way, and you say, "Oh, this dude was pretty smart back then in ancient Greece," then you'll get hooked on it. But not the way we do it in school. And, so I think that the old premises of school are actually outmoded.

Q: So that we basically have to learn to market the subjects we want kids to be interested in.

P: Well, in some sense yes. A friend of mine, who is a history professor, when he went to Melbourne and they told him that they ha to fill the classes otherwise the department would lose money, he said I'm going to teach a course in the history of the body. And... interesting. And I thought that was kind of weird and pandering at first, but now I've rethought it. And I thought, OK, what he's doing is saying I'm going to interest you on a passionate level. People signed up like crazy to do this course. But what I'm going to use that passion to do is teach you the principles of history. How do we look at things? How do we use sources? How do we do all these kinds of things? So, are kids better off , if they take one history course, are they better off taking that general survey course where they learn a little dates of everything, or they better with the course that says, Wow, I now know how historians think and how they work? And that's the kind of thing. So, marketing, yes.

Q: Do you still believe memorization is a good practice?

P: I do believe in memorization if it's used selectively. And the reason I believe in memorization is to have something - it doesn't have to be huge - in your mind, like the Declaration of Independence, or the Preamble to the Constitution, or the Gettysburg Address, that you can repeat at moments that you are not doing anything else - and now the kids are full of music but they could use this ... something on their iPod, and think about. You can do that your whole life, and you can rethink it, and what you thought about it in the third grade is different to how you think about it in the tenth grade is different to how you think about it as an adult, and it's neat to have things that you can do that with.

Q: What happens online for young people especially is judgment and ethics. How do we teach kids the validity of sources, what's going on, what's real, what's not, and how do we teach them to behave with basic ethics in the online space?

P: Well, there are a couple of things you can take... The great proverb about judgment that I like is that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. So, you've got to give kids the opportunity to make lots of judgments and make lots of mistakes, and then you've got to think about them and talk about them and present case after case after case of what happened. And the more you do that and the more... A lot of things get passed around by word of mouth. It's not like we have to teach the kids... We've just got to get these things out there as memes a lot of the times, because kids, pretty much when you talk to them, they say, Yeah, I know that, I know kind of what the dangers are. And then you say, Do you know about this? And then they say, Oh, no, I don't know about that, oh, that's interesting. OK. So that one gets passed around like the one that some guy shows that the second most found Martin Luther King site is really an anti-black people site. It's a racist site. Well, OK, how do you find that out? People want to know about that. That's the lore that ought to get passed around. And so, the more we give people the opportunity to make judgments, and we, one of the things about education that's really missing and that they get from video games in spades, is this idea of making decisions and getting feedback. And that's the learning loop. The learning loop is making a decision, taking an action, getting feedback, reflecting, doing something different, and then taking another, going around that loop. And the more you go around that loop, the better you are at judgment. And so we have to figure out ways to put people through that. The second thing, which is the ethics thing, is similar in some sense in that you have to give people a lot of ethical and moral decisions with feedback. And simulation lets you do that in ways that we couldn't do before. But the questions are the same. The question of just because I can hit somebody over the head with a baseball bat - should I? is the same whether it's in Grand Theft Auto or whether it's on the streets of Brooklyn.

Q: But the feedback loop that we get in a video game is much, much tighter than what we might call traditional feedback loops. For a farmer, the feedback loop is whether, in the spring, or in the summer, they get the harvest that they planted six months before. Isn't there some need to teach kids that, sometimes, the feedback is going to be delayed?

P: I think the biggest need is the other way. The biggest thing is to speed this up, and this is what ... I remember a guy in the army talking about this and saying, well, we're hampered in what we do because it takes so many years for an officer to get enough experience because we don't have that many wars, and we don't... Well, can we create ersatz experience, can we accelerate that issue and say, OK, yeah, in real life it doesn't happen necessarily that fast, at that speed. But one of the things that people know about now that you can do is you can speed things up and slow them down. We have slow motion, and that really works where you can see the bullet going very slowly and the people doing... And we have sped-up motion, and that's a concept that we didn't have so much before technology. But kids know that instinctively. And so we can use these things... This is why I think technology increases wisdom. These are the kinds of things, if we use them correctly, if we use them well.

Q: They want to know how to fly the helicopter the way they learn in The Matrix. I need to know how to fly this chopper. OK, here you go, you know, they blip in a program in the Matrix character and can then fly. But real learning doesn't work that way.

P: Well, it works almost that way these days in that you can get into a helicopter simulator and you can really get the feel now. You'll get it only to a certain extent with a video game because the controllers are not the same, but as you move on to more and more complex things you'll get it. Now, we haven't jacked it into them yet, and there's a wonderful thing: I don't know whether you've read Rainbow's End, by Vernor Vinge, where he talks about just-in-time learning, where you get a new job and they jack you into it, and there's a lot of danger in that because it might fry your brain if it comes in too fast, and if you get two or three of those, you're dead. But in a sense we have to do that, because somebody becomes secretary of state or president or whatever they do, they get these new jobs and typically there's this huge... they're not prepared, they get this huge learning curve on the job. They say, oh, I'm more prepared, and I'm going to have less of a learning curve - it doesn't matter, you're still going to have one. And that's why Obama is smart to bring in the ex-presidents because they're going to help that learning curve. Now, how could we make technology capture those kinds of things, so that the learning curve becomes much faster, much shorter, that you encounter in a session, in a couple of hours, the same kinds of issues? Guess where we do that? Airplane simulators. We're good at that now. The original airplane simulator was actually built as a toy, it was not built to fly airplanes. But they suddenly realized that if we put people through wind shear and disasters and this, and we do it over and over and we throw things at them, they're going to get much better.

Q: Right, but to the humanities professor and me, this feels almost like steroids to a football coach. In other words, there's great utility value in shrinking the amount of time and energy it takes to learn something. But are we devaluing the learning itself, the experience of learning and what that creates, the arduous journey up the hill with the buckets of water before you meet, you know, the Zen master - are we taking that out of the equation?

P: Yeah, I hope so, because I think it shouldn't be there. I really do. Again, learning comes from passion and not discipline. And if you are the person... if you think... and many, many academics do and probably half the Japanese do, that you have to spend years mastering the basics and you have to... I remember if you're learning calligraphy, there are 20 strokes, but you have to learn the one stroke, and you have to do that for a year before they even start teaching you the second one - there's value in that. There's value in that if you want to be an artist who does that specifically, you can do that. But that's not really the way it works in a world that's got as much stuff and information that we have now. We're in a different kind of world. We're in a world where the important thing is sorting. Stuff is coming at you at a mile a minute from a billion directions - the important thing is sorting and knowing where to put your focus, being able to focus on bunch of different things at once, put connections together quickly. That's a totally different kind of thing. And this idea that learning is painful and arduous and takes time and all this kind of stuff, I think is something we should get away from if we possibly can, and I think that we can. I just don't buy it... We all do it, there are certain things you have to do if you want to get better at them. But you have to do that because you want to, not because somebody tells you so. So when they haze you to do a PhD, and they tell you it has to be on this paper, and the footnotes have to be in this form, and it has to follow this kind of stuff and... I mean, who the hell cares?

Q: Right, you have to do it because you want to but a 12, 13, 14-year-old kid, if as educators we have to cater to what it is they want to do, and they're living in a world with this tremendous new Penguin Cafe social pressure, what they want to do is update their Facebook page, is get more MySpace hits.

P: That's not all they want to do. Well, again, let's differentiate. There are people who are not going to do the kind of academic stuff that we want them to do, and they're not going to see any value in reading and writing, and they're not going to see value... and because there is isn't, because jobs... I talked to a guy who is delivering Coca-Colas, and he had his little computer... I said, and it was bigger than I thought... I said, Does it have a printer? He said, Yes. I said, Do you have to do any writing at all? No. No one has to write anything, anytime, anywhere except at the highest levels of society. Nobody has to read very much. And if we can put a machine in a... If we still want to have a lot of stuff in print, like the rules, or whatever it is, and if we can attach something to your cellphone that says you run this over this thing and it reads it to you, and you point it at a sign and it reads it to you. And we go back to the oral tradition that we used to be in before we got into these squiggles... Squiggles were just a really good way to do it at the time. They were a really good way to encode information and decode information. But I'm not sure that they're the best way going forward. So there's a gradual transition taking place. And somebody said - this is a great line form my friend, Mark Anderson [spelling?] - that video is the new text. And the growth of YouTube, and Hulu and TeacherTube and Big Think and Ted.com, where you've got this stuff that is not just little kids talking to three friends... there's plenty of that. But also where you get Supreme Court justices and Nobel prize winners putting their thoughts into very short, focused clips that you can get and then debate and then talk about, where everything is oral. Everything is oral. What is the value of going back to the squiggles? I'm not sure I know it. I'm not sure I buy it.

Q: As someone who was raised in the land of squiggles?

P: I was raised... I read, I read a lot. But almost every book I read I wish was shorter. I'm always looking at how many pages are left in this stupid thing. I'm always saying, Why did he have to put in a lesbian love story into this thing if that's not the point that he's really making, or she, or whatever else it is. There's so much that you don't want in the stuff that you read, and it's very selective, the things that are so important and so well done that you want to read all of them. I mean, just take movies or take books or anything - the number that are really good, that demand a full reading because they're so special is minuscule. And I was thinking coming up here about haiku, about how the Japanese ... I was thinking on the way over here about haiku, and how what they try to do in that form is say short is better, and you only have this many syllables to do it in, so be concise. Being concise is the hardest thing there is... Every director wants to make a move that's four hours long, and can make a movie that's four hours long. Cutting it down... any writer, I can write 6,000 words a whole lot easier than I can write 800... It's hard to be concise, but hopefully, given that we want things faster, and we want things better and quicker and tighter, that it will force people to be more concise, and maybe that's what we should be teaching, to say, Can you put this idea out in a sentence instead of saying can you write 10 pages. The first thing kids [ask] teachers when they say turn in an essay is, How many pages? I mean, who cares how many pages it is? I'd rather that you write two sentences that are pithy, that are really good, than that you write 10 pages. What are you going to show me? That you can write 10 pages? I don't care. So, that's really important. The other thing that I wanted to talk about, because it's also in this great book that is How to talk about books you haven't read, is the idea of how quickly we forget, that if I ask you about almost any book that you've read, if you haven't read it in the past month or so, you probably won't remember a whole lot of it. You remember some gist of it, some things, but not very much. And, so, we don't have a good way of collecting that. I write marginal notes, but I usually don't have a pen and I bend corners... I have millions of books with little bent corners which said, I'd like to remember this. But then I have no good way of collecting it. So mostly we read this stuff but it doesn't stick with us in any kind of way. Maybe it moves us a little bit... We don't take it with us... Maybe in the back of our minds it informs us in some ways...

Q: But what we do take with us is the 8, 10, 12, 20-hour experience of perceiving the world through someone else's eyes. And I don't know how we get that otherwise.

P: Well, we accelerate it. We just do it shorter and more intensely. And you can do that, you know... the quote is, "We learn more in a 3-minute record, baby, than we ever learned at school." I think that's Springsteen. If you do something that's intense, the three... you know, songs do this very well. You spend 3 minutes with Frank Sinatra doing this, or Liza Minelli, or whoever you like, who's good, and they give you this intense experience. Now, if you want more of that experience, fine, listen to more of it, go through more of it. But this idea of... that you should read a whole book... that's fine if you want to.

Q: But it's like you're making an argument against foreplay. In other words, you just have the experience, baby, let's just get right to it, two minutes, I'll give you two minutes that you'll never forget. You know what I mean.

P: Well, that, again, it's where the passion is. That's a great example because of the passion, and it also reminds me that there's a great scene in ... what's the Monty Python film about life...

Q: Life of Brian?

P: Not The Life of Brian...

Q: The secret...

P: The secret... something about life, where he does the sex thing with his wife...

Q: The Meaning of Life...

P: The Meaning of Life. And, yes, foreplay is there, too. Lubricate! I'm not saying that you shouldn't have these kinds of experiences; I'm saying that what really would count, and the way I would teach, is if each person could discover a book that gives them that experience in a way that's terrific. And I didn't... And I was a literature major, and I didn't read books for pure enjoyment until long out of school. And I remember the first book I ever got into that was when I read Les Miserables in French, and it is a long book, but I loved it, and I would come to the end of a three-page sentence and say, Wow, what this guy can do with language, and he is the best. But you have to discover that for yourself. You don't do that in being taught to do this. It's like almost anything else. When you're pushed to do this, when somebody says you have to do this reading, you have to do this, you have to do this, it doesn't educate you much, or at least not in the deeper sense.

Q: No, but we have to invite them in a way that's compelling to them. But right now the invitation of the Internet feels... It seems to be characterized by an invitation towards narcissism, an invitation for consumption, and not so much an invitation for prolonged, passionate involvement in a subject area.

P: I don't necessarily think that's true, and I think that the evidence against that is the fan world, which is very, very big, and Henry Jenkins and others have written a lot about this. Where a tremendous number of people are using the basis of stories, of things that they find on the Internet to both create stuff and share it. And it happens in games, it happens in Machinima, where they take the game tools and they tell their own stories; it happens in the Sims, where Will Wright said what people use this thing for is to create their own story and then post it. So, I totally disagree; I think that the people who make the argument that you just made, that this is just narcissistic and shallow, are not looking at the full range of what people do. That's really... that's a real dangerous piece of the puzzle that is going on, that they see the Facebook, yeah, the Facebook is there and the desire for social connection is there in spades. But they don't necessarily see the guy on his own time boning up on the Civil War. They don't necessarily see the kid who loves reptiles and is finding out all sorts of things about reptiles. They don't necessarily see the person who surfs YouTube all night, when they find the YouTube... all these related things, and they may... it may be about some subject. They don't look at the passion that the kids have, because we have very little way of identifying, talking, doing anything with that. We don't conceive of life in terms of you and you're passions, and we certainly don't conceive of education that way. We conceive it in terms of curriculum and what I'm going to give to you.

Q: So how do you know all this stuff about kids?

P: I spend a lot of time interviewing kids whenever I give a talk which is a couple of times per week I have the people recruit a panel of kids, typically yesterday it was from, it was a kid who was from 6th grade all the way to kids who are high school seniors and in between. And then I ask them questions and I ask them about their use, and I ask them about what they do and about what their preferences are and I ask them about how they would like to see things and what they are turned on by and what they're turned off by and what their pet peeves are and what they don't think people understand. And then the last question and then I open it up typically to the audience to ask some questions, but the last question I always ask is what did you think of this experience of having this exchange. An to a person they always say thank god someone is finally listening to us, thank you for hearing our opinion nobody ever ask us about our opinion so a lot of what's going on is people are making assumptions about kids without really knowing what they think. A great example yesterday is that the teacher was saying well should I go out and learn Garageband before I can give you an assignment and the kid will say you don't have to know Garageband just tell us to make something that's a Podcast and we don't have to use garage-- and we can use anything we want to just don't make these assumptions about us and what we can do and what we think and what we want and how we - we, just ask us and that's what I try to do and for some reason that's unusual.

Q: And when you ask them, what do you hear?

P: What I hear is that they're bored to tears with school. That they hate people talking at them and that so much of school is still, even though the teachers are changing moving slowly, is still talking to kids, presenting, telling, explaining to the whole class and when kids hear that they just fall asleep, they tune out. The smart kids at the top, they just take 5 minutes and just fall asleep, its monotone, what they want to do, what the kids want, is the group work, is the project work is the case work, is getting their opinions heard, is sharing things. They know they're world citizens they want to affect the world. They're so much more engaged in the world than they ever get credit for in school, and they're so much more involved with each other than they ever get real credit for in school. Not just in the negative ways which people associate with Facebook, but in a lot of positive ways as well. And they want you to know that, they'd really like you to know that. If anybody took the trouble to ask, so that's - I find myself at the age of 62 being the partisan for all these young kids and its just bizarre that I'm doing this and that I have to do this. But the kids they just - they love me and one kid said yesterday, this is a great line, he said, he turned to the audience and he said, "if this guy can do it at 62 you guys can too, you just have to apply yourselves."

Q: Paint us a portrait of this new creature...

P: well, they're - digital natives is an interesting concept because it's a metaphor and people take it as, much often, they take it as very detailed and serious. But I think they ask what age does one become a digital native and there's no exact place, but what there is, is a different attitude. What's different is not what they know because bill gates notwithstanding no kid is born knowing Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, they actually have to learn it. But they, their attitude towards learning is that they can, that it's going to be a friend that it's gonna help them. That when its no good they're gonna toss it out and get a better one that they can make it work for them. That they know how to do these things and that these things are theirs, so that they're proud of the fact that they can text really fast and text. And I asked this group yesterday how many of you can text in your pockets and they all raised their hands, even the sixth grader. So this is something that is an attitude and a state of mind and its kind of like any culture. So if you were brought up in a particular country or in a particular religion or whatever else it is, from the time you were zero to the time you were in sixth grade or ten, you would know things, instinctively about that, that somebody who came to that country or came to that religion or whatever it is, to that culture, and learned everything they could about it, would still never know. And that's really what this is, is their instincts, their feelings there's comfort technology is your friend, this stuff is not something you have to struggle to learn, its not something you have to read books about, its just none of that its our stuff. And its not even technology, because if you believe that famous quote "technology is only stuff inverted after you we're born". So for them its the way the world works, if they see a telephone with a cord they say 'what? telephones don't have chords what are you crazy.' And so I think that what's going on is that they have a set of attitudes, not that they have, they also have other things. They also have the fact that they have all of this information coming at them and that they've had to deal with and sort and learn how to deal with they have the fact that they're - but they're good at that, they make their own playlists, they figure out what songs they like, they're much better at sharing. For them sharing is power, for us knowledge was power; you kept it close to the chest. They multi task of course. They do. We've all multi-tasked, we all multi-task but they do it with technology and that's what frightens the adults so much. They're able to deal with this huge amount of information coming at them and we may not appreciate all the ways they deal with it. And they may not be the best ways and we still have to work together, adults and kids. And I always talk about partnerships, that's a big theme of mine now. I'm writing a book about that. The only way we're gonna make progress is if we let the people who do each thing special, so the kids, when they're learning, can understand the technology, can get information, can create things. And they need our help sometimes in creating. And the question that's really, good which you've asked before which was the question of do they need adult supervision to make good movies and the answer is yeah. The answer is yeah. The people who made these wonderful movies in Mayburry, outside of Atlanta found that when they introduced professional filmmakers to come and talk to the kids and showed them some stuff, yeah the quality of their movie-making went much higher as it should because its not as if we're re-inventing everything we're sharing. But the people, the experts don't need to make the movies, they don't need to do this stuff. They don't need to get hands on with stuff. The kids can do that. They need to be the questioners the explainers. The quality controllers, the context providers and that is the mix of what i think will work the best, both in schools and in businesses and in everything else.

Q: Just to take this one step further what do we know that they don't?

P: We know lots of things we know how to, some of us, know how to write, some of us know how to put things in context, they know that when we talk about the Middle East there's a history there, there's a context about, that goes back thousands of years. We know, we may have more experience in doing things that says well yeah you can do that that you want to do but its probably gonna have these or these consequence. We know that when they give us something we can say that's really good or that's a piece of crap. And I tell this story, some of the ways which I learned were very beneficial, when I went to College at the tender age of 16 and took my first literature class, and handed in my first literature paper, the teacher gave it back to me, the week later, gave it back to the class and he came to me and he said "Prensky, I'm not even gonna grade this, you go out and learn how to write a literature paper and then come back and turn it in and then I'll give you a grade." So he actually did that. He put the burden on me to get better and to do these things and then he was the judge of the quality. And that's the same thing that I'm thinking about; you know kids go out learn how to make a film, that film is not even acceptable, right? it's on Youtube, but that's not what we mean by a quality film. That doesn't say anything it doesn't express the idea you've written. A sentence that's a sentence, it has a period at the end but it doesn't say anything or it doesn't express what I asked you to think about or it doesn't do something. So our job is the quality side, our job is the context side, our job is the question side that make... That's what Socrates was all about, how can I ask you a question that makes you think about things differently. That's what we can offer, and the young people can offer this incredible new way of expressing everything. Not, they're not gonna write essays, they're not gonna write applications, they're not gonna write these things, we still require it, but we keep hearing that I did my college application with a video. I did my College application this and whatever else it is. And they work and that becomes the new way of doing things. So the reason a lot of the people are stuck, I think is cause they think they confuse the old ways the best ways of doing something once with the best ways of doing those things forever. Whereas the things may stay the same but we invent new ways of doing them. And that is where the kids are headed. So its not that they shouldn't learn to communicate, its not that they shouldn't learn to express complex ideas, its not that they shouldn't learn to persuade, it's not if course they should still learn all those things. Those are what we call the verbs, the nouns that they use, whether its the essay or the paper or the rail or whatever it is. Or whether its the video or the Podcast or the, that's what changes and so that's the way I see the world of it.

Q: So project yourself 10 years into the future tell me what the world is like?

P: In 10 years technology will have changed considerably and people will be certainly. We know people will be wearing very different clothing that changes colors because of nano-technology. Medicine will have moved on and we'll be curing things that somebody was saying; surgery will just totally disappear because we can do everything internally. On the learning front and the teaching front I hope, I hope, it may take longer than 10 years or maybe take shorter but I think that what we're going to see is the ability for kids to go out and learn pretty much anything they want to know in an engaging online communicative with lots of people way. And that hopefully and that's a way to insert adults as guides along the position whether its formally in school, whether its out of school. And we get good ways to do that. Right now kids are starting to write to me when they have questions because they know I'm an expert and they find my e-mail online. Now I don't mind that at all when they're young students. If a 6th grader writes to me I write back. If a graduate student writes to me I say "yeah well you're a graduate student and you need to read a lot of things and then ask me interesting questions." But the way kids are learning is really starting to change, and I see that. I hope that in 10 years it will be different. I suspect that it wont be that much different in the schools but they'll be a lot of pockets of difference and they'll eventually, those pockets, will be better and will take over.

Q: Are you suggesting that schools are no longer the center of education?

P: They no longer are. They already aren't . Education has bifurcated completely into school, where you get a credential and its about the past, and after school is where you really learn interesting stuff on your own. And the great example of that are things like First Robotics Club which is Dean Cayman's way of leaning math and science that just engages kids absolutely incredibly; kids finding their passion. And if we can get, and people are starting to talk about this now, if we can find ways of helping kids find and follow their passions and then learn the tools and to me those tools are knowing the right thing to do and knowing how to do it; and then knowing how to do it with other people. Then getting better at doing it continuously and doing it creatively. If they can learn those tools to apply their passions and go as far as they can, then we'll be a whole lot better off than where we are with trying to make kids get better and better on these standardized tests. Because, first of all, there are 2 reasons for that. One, we're never going to compete with countries where they can whip kids. You know so Singapore will always do better than we will on the standard tests but those are not what really counts. What has really counted, what really ever made America different than say other places is our creativity, is our ability to take thoughts and go with them and create new things and put things together in new ways. And if we don't focus on that as our education and really say OK kids passion to it, let's... then I think we're going to loose that.

Q: Do you have any concerns about shifting so much of our interactions, our learning, our functions on to the virtual world?

P: Well, I'm certainly a big balance guy. I do believe in balance and I think that there will always be the personal, and there will be the virtual, but I don't buy that one is better than the other. I certainly don't want to go in every direction, but everytime somebody talks to me about body language I talk to them about body odor. And what I mean by body odor is not so much the smelling but the judgment, the idea that we have "lookism" that so many kids judge people on how they look and make these assumptions. Whereas online, all you see is the work product. So you can get to a person's mind often better online and the kids are saying that, that's why they break up and they have stories. They can deal with certain things better when they're not looking at each other. Now if the balance goes too far in either direction, like it has in perhaps in Korea with the addicts or wherever it is, then you're no good because you have to have both. But one thing I do see is that work is increasingly becoming technology mediated, and I think that's true in pretty much every profession. And, which leaves, personal lives and certain aspects of personal lives to be, your family lives or whatever it is, to be in person. I think it gets out of whack when your personal life totally becomes also mediated by technology, and then any kind of work you're doing, but so you need to strike a balance. But I'm not that concerned I don't think. I think that the addicts are the exceptions. And I think that there's exceptions to everything and there's addictive personalities to everything and it doesn't matter what you do, somebody is going to get addicted to it. But, and you treat those people, and you treat them very well and kindly, but for the mass of kids, the mass of people, I think they'll adapt just like we've always adapted to change. And you know, there were people who complained when we moved from horses to cars, there were people who complained when we moved form letters to the telephone, there were people who complained about everything. And its not that they're wrong totally because things get lost, so you might have less memory, we don't have as flowery writing. We may not think about the details of each personal letter carefully as we ever did at one time but we gain other things and life moves on. So if you love all those old things that's fine, you can do them as long as you like. You can write with a quill pen, you know I, it's all good to me but I think the world in general finds what it thinks is good and adapts it, just like the cellphone which now has, I think there's as many cellphones practically as people on the planet. Look at how that technology took off because it really connected people in ways that they hadn't been able to before. Look at how word processing changed the way people write. Nobody wants to go back anymore, how did we do it before we could actually correct the mistake while we were making it? You know, carbon paper, duh? So when these technologies come along and you know they're not all great and who knows whether Facebook will have the sticking power or something else will replace it and it certainly will and we'll move along. But when the technology comes along that really works for people it just...another great example is Google search. Right when Google came along we all switched, everybody switched, a billion people switched overnight. It was better, and then the next thing that's going to come along is going to be better. And the combination of all these better things, throwing out all the junk, will be, make life, better and different. Different though and if we can do that and maintain a balance and some thoughts of what's ethical and what's good and what's human and all those kind of things then I'm certainly for that. Then we will have a nice life and it might have less privacy in it, I think it certainly will, and we'll have to get used to that but it does not mean that it will be a worse life and that our kids will be somehow deprived compared to how we were. I think we're no more deprived compared to our parents but now we do have rock and roll.

P: So it's a good question to ask if we get these things from kids, what should they be getting from us and how do we strike that balance. Again, I said this before, but I think there is a false idea of what kids get and how they interact with and who they interact with. When kids are on facebook, yes, often they just interact with each other. When they are interacting with artist, musicians, when they are going to wikipedia, and doing other things, they are interacting with adult minds. And so I don't believe they are not interacting with adult minds in both the creative and intellectual sense. I think they are. I think that they, kids get, however they get it, many of them get the news; they get to see these things. Now, do they have a chance to interact and explain and talk about their ideas with adults? Not enough. They crave that. They crave that. That's why the talk about they love the classes and teacher that come down to their level and let them express their opinions and talk about it as opposed to talking at them. We have a myth that somehow this interactions we've had with kids have really helped them. For most kids that never happens. IF they're lucky they have great parents, if they're lucky they have a great teacher once or someone who affects them. But most kids don't really have good relationships with adults that are formative relationships with adults. Or they don't have enough, if they have some, they don't have enough of them. In some ways they get more of that on the Internet. Because when they go look for something, when they want to go find an idea or an answer or, who puts this stuff out there? It's adults. Who puts the magazines out there? Who puts the. Now some of it's fans, a lot of it their peers. And we should find better ways to mediate. Just like some of the stars, the people who have their blogs and they talk about this. But blogging is another good place, gaming is another good place. When you play games in a guild, your typical talking about an age mix from 8-80. So I think it's not true. It's just false that the kids are not getting meditated by adult ideas and adult thoughts and adult persons. But we could do better, and we should do better.

Q: I mean I keep thinking about my own children. And my oldest child is almost 11 and I've noticed; I mean he is deeply interested in digital media and he also loves to read. But what I noticed, and I pointed this out to him yesterday because I've been thinking about it, is that when he wants to engage intellectually, he goes to a book. When he wants talk to his friends or play games, he goes to his computer and the pull of the computer is the pull of socializing with his friends and playing games, that are generally speaking not about the world, but about playing games. And I can only generalize from that, but my sense is that the entry point for most kids is around those two ideas. And its not about finding out; I mean sure there are moments when we all sit around and ask questions about Jupiter and get on the computer. But that's not really why he wants to get on that machine. And, isn't that mostly what you find with teenagers? That that's most of what they're doing?

P: It's hard to tell because we really don't see. But I think part of this, say I would wonder; I don't know if this is true or not, and I'm just going to make a speculation, is this has a lot to do with the way you've brought this kid up. That saying, "books, look what they give you." Because for example, if you are into that, how much time has he spent on George Lucas site, how much time has he spent on the blogs of the people, of the discussions around the people who do this stuff in a very deep way. They're all online. They're all there. They're all talking about this stuff. How many interviews has he read with Will Wright and all these other people that are there? A lot of which isn't in the books. Especially because the books are not as good as the Internet for contemporary learning. There just not. There just not, they can point you to it, but a book is always two years late. They're just not anymore. When I wrote my first book I found that I didn't have to go to any libraries or do anything. There were a few books I read. Most of the material was just there online for me to find. With the right search engines and the right. So, if we encourage, if you were a different kind of person, and you said to your kid "you know, you have this question, oh yeah, you could read his book, but this guy has a blog. Why read his book when you can hear his thinking from yesterday? That's his thinking from three years ago." Then it would be different. So that is in a sense of what we need to do. Now we are not saying that the big thinker shouldn't be considered; the ideas shouldn't be considered. But you can hear any big thinker, any big writer, anybody, you can hear the jist of their ideas on the web. And a lot of what they write in the books is elaboration if you really want it.

Q: What are we doing if we have a society that exist on knowing just the jist. What are we losing?

P: I think we do have a society that exist on knowing just the jist. I think there are relatively just a few people who go much deeper. That's why USA Today replaced the New York Times. It got bigger than the New York Times. Nobody wants to read. And I never do. You read the headlines, you read a few paragraphs, and that's really all you need. Unless you really feel that this is something that matters to you and you want to know more and go deeper. I can't stand NPR radio, with their expanded coverage and these long stories. It's just, I don't need to know that stuff. And it's just their opinion anyways of how they've put it together. So I'm not sure that long form really brings that much more. I think if we knew more jist, if more of us knew more jist, and it was good jist then that would really really help rather than hurt.

Q: What's happening to quiet? I hear from almost every adult I know. We're all feeling the lost of quiet. And we're all anxious about the constant moving from device to device and filling silence. Won't there continue to be a roll for silence, and what will happen to that? And I would love for you talk personally.

P: In some ways, if what I looked at, what I had and what I hear, music is replacing silence as the place to space out and think and be in your own place and reflect. And what the kids report is what they really want, and they would like to do this in school, is that they concentrate better, they think better, when they have their own music going on and it could be whatever type of music they like. But this ubiquity of music and musically devices, I think has been a change in what people want. They don't like, it's like the person from the city who moves to the country, who goes for a vacation in the city and can't sleep. Me for example. You're used to that. Your brain gets used to a certain amount of stimulation of things. Now that doesn't mean that you can't concentrate. But what they use to calm themselves down to produce whatever is, the feta waves they need. Or the beta waves they need. I guess you want to get rid of the feta and get the betas. They use the music for that. And so, I'm not sure, this is total speculation because you asked the question. I think that that's what's going to happen. I think also the more we ask reflective questions of people the more we get them to reflect about meaningful things, the more we have the kinds of interactions that are less about the answers, do you know the right answers, that are more Socratic. And whether it comes from an adult, whether is comes from a song, whether it comes in; however it is that gets somebody to think about something. And I think questions pose a big role in doing that and we have lost the art of doing that, so I hope we get it back.

Q: Do you think music can replace silence. Do you think anything will be lost?

P: I don't know, I don't know. Silence is a state a mind. When you say silence, you could say, there is always going to ambience on, there is always going to be something going on. I think what people mean is that you are not being deliberately assaulted by things. And music lets you tune out, just like anything else tunes you out. And white noise can let you do the same thing. And so you've got to get in a state where you feel peaceful and you feel like you can let your mind wander and let your imagination wander. So yeah, it's very possible. I think kids are getting into that state because kids are very creative these days.

Q: But I'm speaking more metaphorically. The truth is when I say silence I mean not being connected all the time. And my sense with kids, they're listening to music, but they are also doing a lot of others things at the same time. They're writing a paper, and they're chatting with their friends, and they're checking their IM, and whatever it is. It seems as though there is less and less space left when that kind of connectiveness isn't happening. And I guess what I'm asking, and I think that's something we are all experiencing, our need to check our email, the moment you walk out of a room or a lecture we are '"on" something. That kind of time that you are downloading what you just experienced or heard seems to be getting more and more squeezed out with this sort of ease in which we can connect to each other. And I'm wondering about that. I'm talking about sound. Let's talk about sound.

P: Well I think that that's not necessarily a function of elapsed time. Just like thinking is not a function of elapsed time. Thinking happens in a flash. People have told us that reflection takes time and it doesn't. It may take various instances, it may happen in a number of instances over time, but the reason we do it; when you go to a school, and you go to a teacher, or an after action review, or a debriefing, there is no other way to talk about it other than verbalize it and that takes time. But the actual things that we do, the actual creative sparks, the actual moments are flashes. They're when those neurons come together in the right way and bang. So I'm not as concerned that we're losing enough time to do that, but I think the spacing of the world is just really different. One of the interesting things that I read about recently, that it used to be in Europe that people basically hibernated in the winter. They literally, the farmers, went to bed, and they didn't get out of bed until spring. Well we don't hibernate anymore. We have done this and do we want to go back to hibernation? IS that going to be better for us? I don't think so. I love to live in the future and I love to think of these things. And I don't see it insulating me and if we do then we need to change ourselves. If we're getting too stressed, because stress is important; there are always people arguing that multitasking is too stressful on the brain, you're getting to many stress chemicals. Well if you feel to stressed and many people do, you need to do something and we need to do something about it. And the best thing we can do about that is help people find their passions. Because the more you are doing something you enjoy, the less stressed you are. Even if it's hard, even when it's complicated, even when you have to do a lot of learning, or a lot of things for it. Because if you like making films, or you like writing, or whatever it is you like doing, I don't care if it's driving a bus. There are people who get less stressed driving a bus and there are people who get more. The people who become Ralph Cadman ought to get off the bus, even though you become actors, right? So, I'm not for stress. I don't think the world should become more and more stressed. I would like to see the opposite. I don't think the answer to that is necessarily becoming a guru. Although meditation helps, and there are people who do it and that's grown. And there's a lot of ways you can do it, even technoloated, that you can do this and learn to produce the kind of relaxing waves that you need. So lets find ways to reduce stress, absolutely.

Q: Okay, I want to ask you quickly about the military which is something we are very interested in. The military seems ahead of the curve as far as embracing technology. I am wanting you to talk a little about the military and how it fits in to this whole picture, as it's an important piece of our story. I read your paper you gave in 2003 at a conference and some of the things you talk about there.

P: The one about digital natives in the military? Well, I didn't know much about the military before I wrote my first book, but writing it I talked to a bunch of military people because they were some of the most advanced users in games in training. And they turned out to be, the trainers, the people who do training, or what they call 'readiness' in the military, in the American military I'm talking about, turned out to be very very bright people at the top levels. And they have really thought about this because they see readiness as a life and death kind of thing. They have said, "how can we do this?" And they have come to the conclusion that we can't order people around anymore. They aren't going to listen to us; they aren't going to do it. We have to go at least partially where they are in order to get them to do what we need them to do. So they have gone a long way in using games, in using other kinds of tools. And they have also thought about how we can give people additional quick experience by simulating, giving them more and more places. It's also interesting, so they're using technology in that way for training. They're also using technology for fighting; in the sense that their feeling is the more we can communicate and connect, the better we are at doing this. Now the interesting thing of course is that our enemies who are much less organized and much less financially well equipped, they're doing similar things on a much more ? basis. So they're using the technology for the websites for communications, they're using the technologies to communicate in ways that sometimes our military doesn't do because we say we have to have the security level, and we have to have this, and we don't want our soldiers to have their own cell phones, and it has to go through the chain of command, and don't have everybody having their own blog because god knows what they'll say. Well they don't care about that stuff. So they use this stuff sometimes more effectively. And they have figured out ways, and every time we try to figure out better ways to intercept them; so it's a game that's going on in terms of. But in the end it's just better communication I think really. And whether that communication is in training kind of communication, how to behave and how to do things well, and whether it's an actual doing in enhancing what you are doing, I think both of those are places where people who are actively trying to achieve ends that matter are very successful. Another place where this came in very quickly is the financially world. We didn't get them, we can see where all this stuff got them but that was because some people think it's because they over relied on technology. And in some sense that is true. Because they thought they could assess rescue models better than they actually could. And people who over relied on technology got burned. But a lot of it is just your basic human greed and emotional things that took place and so it will always be a balance between those two. And as I say when I talk about a digital wise person and how technology is really going to enhance our wisdom and make us wiser and we won't be able to be wise without technology. That still doesn't mean that it replaces the mind. It enhances the mind; it works better when you put the two together in a good way. And figuring out what a good way is, is part of the wisdom.

Q: I am wondering, I know you talked a lot about game based learning... How can the experience of shooting someone, or avoiding something, or making a maneuver in a virtual environment ever really approximate the real thing? If you go through that virtual training, are you really that prepared?

P: I guess the best agreement to that is what happened yesterday in New York. This has never happened before that anybody has ever landed a full airliner on the water, just this way, but I guarantee you that they have practiced this in simulation over and over and over again. And they knew that you have to shut the vents, and they knew that you had to do certain kinds of things. And it was almost to the point of instinct. Plus there are so many levels to these games. The thing that people see, especially people who don't play, is they see the screen. And they see your aiming at somebody and your shooting them and that's all there is. What they are not seeing is that there is rules under this of what to do and strategy of why they would do this and the environment. The context that you are in. So you are either a gangster or your this, or you're that person, you're role-playing in this kind of thing. And something there is about when and whether to do something and what you should do. SO there is a whole lot of stuff that can be put into these games that really approximates pretty well what's going on. And we just keep getting better at it. Were not perfect at it. It's not the generation of games that are here today, the best at doing this, which are the Grand Theft Auto games which have a surface context that a lot of people object to. What will be replaced by much more nuances stuff just as they have in the movies. Our movies are over a hundred years old, our games are only 30 years old. And they started from nothing, they started from Pong 30 years ago. So we don't even have, we have very few really brilliant minds that make these things. But it's coming, because it's a very rich medium and a very expressive medium potentially. And so people will take over. Books, thousand of years old, and look how few great things come out of that. So it will come. I think games are really good. And also these short videos and other ways. We just learn these new forms of expression and we get better. And people come along who master them, who are masterful at them. And I think that it's good and we should keep watching for that.

posted march 24, 2009

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