Don't hold your breath

[cross-posted at Moving at the Speed of Creativity]


One of the key beliefs of many edubloggers and educational technology

enthusiasts is that digital technologies can, and should, empower students to be

active, engaged learners who have greater control over their own learning. I've

been doing a lot of work lately with secondary schools and, unfortunately, I've

got to report that I think there is a huge lack of congruence between this

pedagogical belief and the existing belief systems of high school teachers and

parents (at least the ones with whom I've been interacting).

For example, I've asked several groups of parents recently whether it was

important that student learning experiences were interesting or engaging.

Sometimes I also cited student survey statistics from their children's school

that 65% to 75% of students reported that most of their work was "busy work."

Here are some fairly typical parent statements:

Life is not always interesting and engaging. They need to learn how the

real world is.

Students expect to be entertained all the time. What is the teacher

supposed to do, dance?

Teacher comments were similar in kind, if not quite in degree:

I'd like to think that we all try to make our instruction interesting.

But there's only so much we can do.

Our teaching would be easier if there weren't so many distractions such

as headphones, text messaging, etc.

Some of these topics bore me too. I don' t know how to make them

interesting.

Moreover, neither teachers nor parents seem very inclined to give up much

control over student learning experiences. I have heard a lot lately about the

importance of ramping expectations up further regarding student mastery of core

knowledge, that students will have to do whatever their supervisor tells them in

their later careers so they better get used to it now, and that high school

students don't really know what's best for themselves at this stage of life.

To the extent that my recent interactions with parents and teachers are

generalizable, what all this means is that educational technology advocates are

facing a losing battle if their advocacy strategy is based on persuading

teachers and parents that these digital tools will foster student creativity,

engagement, and autonomy. Educational technology efforts based on this premise

are doomed to either marginalization or outright failure until parents,

teachers, and administrators are inclined to give up control and to place

greater importance on engaging learning environments.

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