Digital Natives in the Classroom Are Propelling Us to School 2.0

A Few of David Warlick’s Thoughts on How Kids and Web 2.0 Are Reshaping Education and Publishing

March 21, 2007

You’ve heard of “Web 2.0.” Now we have “School 2.0.” Learn how today’s kids’ will reshape their classrooms and the educational resources they rely upon. What can we learn about the future of education and educational publishing from long-time tech-educator, David Warlick? David provides the context for Web 2.0 in education, and contrasts School 1.0 behaviors with School 2.0 behaviors. It’s not about technology. It’s about conversations.

How Are Customers’ Behaviors Changing the Ways That Information Is Consumed?

The symposium included three excellent presentations about the ways in which information consumers’ behaviors are changing.

The first customer presentation was by David Warlick. David focused on secondary school children--the digital natives for whom information is simply the fodder for the multiple conversations in which they are constantly engaged.

The second was a panel discussion by local college and graduate students--who talked about their roles both as information consumers and as information producers.

A third presentation, by Timothy Burke, a professor at Swarthmore College, focused on academics--the current generation of young professors who straddle the divide between traditional academic publishing and blogging.

In this first brief report, I’ll share the notes I took from David Warlick’s talk and a few additional thoughts based on his blog. I’ll describe the take-aways from the other “customer” presentations in a separate report.

How Digital Natives Interact with Information

The most provocative and entertaining speaker of the day was probably David Warlick, who is an educational consultant, a secondary school teacher and is the founder of Landmarks for Schools,[2] a Web resource center for teachers (See Illustration 1). David gave the same type of interactive presentation that he uses to introduce teachers to Web 2.0.

Landmark Project
Please download the PDF to see the illustration.
Illustration 1. David Warlick has been running this “Landmark Project” blog since 1995.

Here are some of the highlights of David’s presentation (I was laughing too much to take good notes), but you can find his slides and his key talking points and resources on his Web sites, blog, and Wiki.[3]

David Warlick has created a number of tools to help teachers catch up with their students. One of these is Blogmeister.[4] It’s a blogging tool designed specifically for teachers and students to use together.

For Digital Natives, Web 2.0 Means Conversations around Information Experiences

What is Web 2.0 for the kids who grew up with digital technology--the ones we refer to as “digital natives” or as “millenials”? For these kids, “it’s not about blogging, podcasting, or wikis.” They don’t understand or think of it as technology, David explained. “To them, it’s just conversation. It’s the way they communicate with each other.”

Martin’s Cockpit. David showed a picture of his teenage son’s room. He calls it “Martin’s Cockpit.” (See Illustration 3.) David describes the scene: “Martin is listening to classical music. He‘s playing a game with folks all over the world, in which he is speaking, listening, and planning the next steps of the game. He’s text messaging on the keyboard for his game console. And he’s IM’ing with other friends on his computer keyboard.”

Martin’s Cockpit
Please download the PDF to see the illustration.
Illustration 3. Does this look like your teenager? David Warlick uses his own son, Martin, as an example of the way that today’s teens multi-task. Here we see Martin playing a video game with multiple global players, listening to music, IM’ing with friends, and using his computer--all at the same time.

“When we look at this picture, we think technology, because we come from a century that is defined by a machine. Martin would say, it’s the information that he sees on the screen, it’s the information that he’s typing. When he invests his money in the games he buys, he’s not investing in the engineering, but in the story--the pictures, animation, sound, and plot.”

“Our children are a different species. They can see through walls, they can hear through walls. They have invisible tentacles that reach through walls. Their playmates are from all over the world. Their backyard is a videogame environment. They see everything as clickable--even their parents! They use mobile phones and text message each other all the time. When my son went to college, he never said goodbye to his friends, he carries their conversations around with him. These constant conversations are a part of how they see themselves.”

Taking Digital Natives into the Classroom

So, David described digital natives, the children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers, as creatures who experience the world as a series of parallel conversations. They have multiple tentacles simultaneously connecting them to different conversations and information-rich experiences. Yet, “we chop those tentacles off in our classrooms. We want them to be the children we want to teach, not teach the children that they are. And this doesn’t make them happy!” Our challenge is this: “How do we drive learning in a ‘flat’ classroom?”

Our Classroom Experience Is Archaic! “No kids have ever been taken so seriously by their parents and by society,” David explained. “They have never seen a TV with fewer than 100 channels. They are smart, connected, 21st century citizens. Yet, they’re being taught in classrooms that were designed in the 19th century?”

How does the digital native learn? According to David Warlick, “he learns how to do things. He knows how to find the people who can help him learn what he needs to know. These kids don’t learn by being taught, but by interacting with the people who know what they need to know.”

The IM Language. In talking about the shorthand vocabulary that kids use when text messaging and instant messaging to one another, David commented, “these kids have invented and created a new grammar that is perfect,” David explained. For example, they use the term “Wombat” for something that’s a waste of money, brains, and time. “We would have created a committee of standards” to come up with a language as rich as the one that our kids use when IM’ing each other, David points out.

Information Lives in Experiences. “My children ask for money to spend on information. They spend money on music, movies, online services, and on the devices they need to play their information. It’s information that is at the center of their experience.”

The Role of Video Games in Shaping Kids’ Experience of Learning

Video games are a big part of kids’ experience, David explained. He referenced a number of good books on the subject, including Martin Prensky’s latest book, “Don’t Bother me Mom, I’m Learning.”[5] “Remember that 80% of people 34 years old and younger grew up playing video games,” he reminds us.

What Can We Take from Video Games into our Classrooms? “We don’t need to develop educational videogames to use in the classroom. Instead, we need to figure out what it is about the experience that makes them compelling,” David Warlick explained.

Here are a few of the attributes of video games that David cited:

* Personal Investment. People like to build their own personal environments out of raw materials. They create avatars, select weapons, design clothing, vehicles and other objects.

* Conversable Rewards. Yet personal investment is not enough. Gamers will often build something and leave. In order to keep coming back, a player has to gain something and get currency as a reward. If they know they can earn and redeem the rewards, they’ll stay. These rewards become the topic of conversation (hence “conversable rewards”). Children talk about what level they’re on, how they got there, and offer tips to others.

* Identity Building. A key part of game playing is creating your identity. Again, this has two dimensions to it. The first dimension has to do with the shaping of the identity and role you create for your in-game avatar--what kind of character do you want to play in the game? The second dimension has to do with your decision-making process about how and why to shape your in-game character...


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