Friday, January 26, 2007

Their Space!

It is just over six months since I read "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steven Johnson. At the time I mentioned the book to my tutors and we discussed several of the key ideas so ably identified by Johnson. The book is an easy and entertaining read, with a clear argument suggesting that popular culture is far more complex and intellectually challenging than we might have suspected.

Demos "the think tank for everyday democracy", drawing inspiration from Johnson's work have spent time exploring the relationship that children have with the Internet. It makes for fascinating reading. In fact I think that it should be read by anyone with an interest in learning. Demos spent nine months observing, researching and recording online activity and now have published their findings in the wonderfully named "Their Space: Education for a digital generation."

In this report Demos suggest that "the use of digital technology has been normalised by this generation (of children) .....and integrated into their everyday lives."

They find that
  • the majority of young people use new media as tools to make their lives easier, strengthening their existing friendship networks
  • almost all children are involved in creative production - eg. uploading /editing
  • children are capable of self regulation when informed of risks contrary to popular opinion
  • create their own hierarchy of digital activities when assessing their potential for contrast to their teachers and parents they were very conscious that some activities were more worthwhile than others.
The report identifies a number of user types

  • digital pioneers
  • creative producers
  • everyday communicators
  • information gatherers
(I am not certain as to how creative some of the uploading / editing activities actually are in practice. Digital dexterity sometimes obscures lack of knowledge, but that's nit picking)

As might be expected the report highlights the conflict between our existing education system and the world of this generation of children "who can't remember life before the Internet and mobile phones" . Some of us now working in Higher Education are aware of this challenge and are actively seeking ways of bridging the gap.

"Their Space" makes a number of important proposals.
In fact I believe the Demos proposals could and should be applied to all sectors of our rather formal education system.

  • "The Children’s Commissioner should convene a working group of children to advise on children’s use of technology
  • The development of a national strategy, led by schools in combating the ‘digital divide’, with schools responsible for delivering access to hardware such as a laptop, tablet or mobile device for every child
  • Measures should be taken to tackle a divide in knowledge, with schools working with parents to develop the skills to help all children interact with technology confidently and safely
  • Children should be given the opportunity to build up a ‘creative portfolio’ alongside traditional forms of assessment, access to which would be determined by the children themselves"
I like this report, everyone should read it. Its nice to read a report that's not produced in America. But are the proposals really new?

It's not been that long since I left the world of Primary Education. In my school we kept creative portfolios in which the children self selected work to be displayed, shared and celebrated between Key Stages and on transfer to High School. We worked with adult education and community groups to enable and facilitate interaction with technology by children alongside their parents. We worked at diluting the digital divide offering community access to the Internet whenever practicable.
What we didn't have was a laptop for every pupil.
What a difference that would have made and would make now.

Try transferring or translating the proposals to Higher or Further Education :-

  • a working group of students to advise on the use of technology
  • a laptop for every student
  • tackle the divide in knowledge between lecturers and students (in both directions) to help students and lecturers interact with technology
  • students should be given the opportunity and actively encouraged to build up creative portfolio in digital form

Now there's another report!

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