Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn
Oakland, CA

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Digital Democracy in a Global Environment
By Barbara Bray    December 6, 2009 -- 09:51 AM

Article adapted from my column in OnCUE Winter 2009:

The world is shrinking. Boundaries are fading between schools, organizations, and countries.  The Internet has changed every sector of business and education. Businesses and governments are developing strategies to address how they are using technology in their daily operations, marketing, and future planning. Why not schools?

We are in the middle of a digital revolution. Younger generations are challenging the status quo with the words ’So what?’ ’I’m not so sure about that’ or ’Well that’s one opinion among many.’

In 1995, Don Tapscott stated: "Today we are witnessing the early, turbulent days of a revolution as significant as any other in human history. A new medium of human communications is emerging, one that may prove to surpass all previous revolutions--the printing press, the telephone, the television, the computer -- in its impact on our economic and social life." When Tapscott wrote this, his predictions about new technology adoption rates were greatly underestimated. The Web became the most quickly adopted "disruptive" technology in history by achieving mass use in only four years. He didn’t predict that this would change how we would interact in schools, businesses, and even with our families. He didn’t predict how we would interpret the news and how cell phones would come into play.

How do you know authority? How do you know if that video clip you saw on the news was taken after a policeman was shot? How biased is the news? Who can you trust if the news you see is transparent but you only see one point of view?

Professor Tim Clydesdale wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education where he suggests a new epistemology is dominant in the universities of America. He suggests that today’s university student sees knowledge as something to be approached more democratically, with less acceptance of expert knowledge, and not necessarily an acceptance of traditional notions of ’knowledge for knowledge’s sake’. He suggests this represents a challenge to university educators. His observations are that notions of ’truth’ and textual authority continue to be challenged. Many of us have observed how younger generations in particular (but not exclusively) no longer place as much credence on authoritative texts nor on so-called knowledgeable people. It seems experience, credentials, publications and even position carry little value for younger generations. He wrote:

"Today’s students know full well that authorities can be found for every position and any knowledge claim, and consequently the students are dubious (privately, that is) about anything we [academics and scholars] claim to be true or important."

Clydesdale contrasts this new attitude to that of students in an earlier age who were prepared to accept the authority of teachers and university professors more readily. He continues:

"Of course, this new epistemology does not imply that our students have become skilled arbiters of information and interpretation. It simply means that they arrive at college with well-established methods of sorting, doubting, or ignoring the same." You probably have heard ‘that might be true for you, but not for me." This could explain that knowledge, varies with the individual, circumstances and time. The democratization of knowledge has led to new types of communities and new forms of communication where ideas are shared and everyone is more of a producer than consumer.

Roland Barthes in the ’Death of the Author’ written over forty years ago, shared that we no longer have the focus of creative influence. The author is merely a "scriptor" used to disrupt the traditional continuity of power between the terms "author" and "authority". The scriptor exists to produce but not to explain the work and "is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, and is not the subject with the book as predicate."

In interpreting Clydesdale and Barthes writings, no one is an expert anymore. The new knowledge worker knows how to use information effectively. Now, everyone can be an author and a knowledge worker borrowing and sharing information and ideas with each other. Peer groups are now more important sources of advice, support and knowledge than a teacher. This is one reason that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are so popular.

Adding my point of view here:
This concerns me because I grew up with real reporters and journalists in my living room. My mother was a courtroom artist who worked with Associated Press reporters who know how to corroborate their sources. They know how to word an article so it is unbiased. Follow Twitter and you can follow points of view that are very biased. Look at groups in Facebook and you know what they stand for. The digital divide is more than the haves and have-nots. We are training people to have biases and only follow people that believe in what they do. We need to teach our students how to think on their own in this new world. I plan to write more about this soon.

How do you teach today’s knowledge workers in a traditional classroom with existing curriculum? We don’t.

We change the learning environment and democratize the information so all content is digital and free like MIT courseware and Curriki. We use social media to share what we know and learn. We change the way we provide professional development. Everyone is a teacher and learner. Survey the the entire school community to find their strengths and weaknesses. Some questions could include:

What prior knowledge do you have about the content?
What are you really interested in?
What skills can you share with others?

Just imagine a learning environment where students are the technology interpreters coaching each other, teachers, administrators, and parents. Teachers do not have to be the expert but learn how to facilitate learning face-to-face and online. Administrators are changing also. Administrators in a traditional school and district are more like middle managers. Yet, middle managers in the business world are not as effective in this new learning environment. In fact, many middle managers are losing their jobs. We don’t want to lose our administrators but how districts and schools manage needs to change. Instead of filtering out content, what if we teach everyone to evaluate and use information appropriately?

I would like to add here about bringing in the experts in their field. Like I mentioned earlier about real journalists who know how to ask the right questions, maybe we need to learn from them how to ask questions, how to be unbiased in our research, and how to write from the unbiased point of view. That is what is missing now. One video from a cell phone can incite a riot.

We can block out content at the school site but not at home or even the public library. Information is available to all ages most anywhere, so wouldn’t it better to develop critical thinking skills. "Teach them how to fish." Democratizing the learning environment means that learners ...

are any age
live anywhere
share their strengths
connect to other learners
coach each other

Now that the world is getting smaller, there are students all over the world who are sharing and learning from each other. However, we need to be careful how we use this new technology and what we are sharing. It is okay to put any video up on YouTube or a comment on Twitter but we need to teach our students how to discern what is fact or opinion. 

Categories: "Facebook" "Twitter" "Journalists" "Opinion" "Fact" "Collaboration" "Global" "Democracy" "Digital"

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Comments: Add New Comments
By small Barbara Bray      December 7, 2009 -- 09:27 AM
Here's a video called "Teachers need to Learn" that explains why schools are not reaching today's students:

Song written by Kevin Honeycutt from ESSDACK. 
Video Directed/Edited by Shawn Gormley

Reply to Barbara Bray

By Anna      December 30, 2009 -- 10:11 AM
Love your "Teach them how to fish" comment above! Thanks for highlighting Curriki. We recently created open education resource advocacy kits:

We hope you find the content useful for spreading the word about OER and democratic content sites such as Curriki. Feel free to stop by our blog and say hello some time:

Anna, Curriki International Consultant

Reply to Anna


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