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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What on Earth are we up to?

I've read a lot of things lately that have made a deep impression on me. More on many of those things later. The thing that really blew me away was a survey conducted by a colleague of mine for an academic paper he was working on. Over 300 of our pupils had responded. I started reading it at the end of a staff meeting and became engrossed. I sat there riveted to my screen while everyone else left.

Image stolen from Mike Wesch http://ksuanth.weebly.com/wesch.html

Our pupils are older teenagers, mostly from middle-class areas. We have a laptop for each pupil and wireless net access. Most of the pupils surveyed said they were disturbed or distracted during class by FaceBook, YouTube and other social networking technologies. Ninety per cent (!) said that 5 minutes or more of each 45-minute period was used on such technologies. In a yes/no question, most of them said they used 'Web 2.o' technologies for school-related purposes, but in the comments they wrote, less than 1% mentioned such use. Their written comments on the survey were not directly about Web 2.0, but more about Internet access in itself, despite this not really being the subject of the survey.

The comments divide roughly in half, with half saying that Internet access at school should be limited because they or others are distracted by things like FaceBook during class. Those who defend having access in class with a few exceptions did not do so by pointing to educational value. On the contrary.

  • Many argue that they cannot concentrate on class for long, so that they need other things to do. A large number said that this was because the instruction was "boring". A pupil said to me directly once that he found the school day so boring that he needed social networking to get through the day.

  • Many argue that, as it is their education, it is up to them whether or not they participate. If they wish to update their FaceBook profile instead of listening to the math lesson, that is entirely their affair. Many clearly thought that it was no business of the school or the teacher what they did in class. Really.

  • Many said that they followed FaceBook, etc during class, but that this did not affect their concentration.

  • Several pupils claimed that they needed to be logged on to FaceBook (MSN, etc) to be able to concentrate. These pupils feel that if they are not logged on, they don't know "what's happening" and become agitated. If they are logged on, they say, they feel they are in the loop and can relax.

What on Earth are we up to? School has always been a problematic arena for learning. With the modern web, are we exploding school and changing it into something new, or are we just finally helping it achieve its full potential as a complete waste of time?

Guess my answer.

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