User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Bringing Digital Propensities Into the Learning Environment

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Over the past decade there has been a lot of press given to the idea of the digital native.  Regardless of one’s belief in this phenomenon, the under 21 age group is growing up with technology, always has had technology in their lives, and typically uses it on a daily basis.

A new research project by the Open University explores the much-debated concept of “the digital native”.  It concludes that while there are clear differences between older people and younger in their use of technology, there’s no evidence of a clear break between two separate populations. Younger students are more likely to have worked on a wide range of computing tasks, and to have used technology over longer periods. Younger ones more frequently have laptops and handheld devices – phones, music and games players.  More of the younger users than the older ones, though, are likely to have access beyond the home computer – at work, at a public facility, or anytime, anywhere with a mobile device. When it comes to mobile phones, the differences are again in line with common perception – older users are just as likely as younger ones to make calls, but are less likely to use all the other features – text, camera, music, internet, wi-fi. (

Even with the evidence provided by research studies, I subscribe to the notion of educators as ethnographers (the science of contextualization).  I observe and study how my learners interact with the objects in their world both in formal educational settings and in informal settings when it is their personal choice.

I have been integrating technology into my classrooms (3rd grade to graduate school, online and face-to-facet) for over a decade.  The big difference I noticed over the years is the ease that learners now have in using the technology.  Years ago I needed to spend a lot of time explaining simple things like how to open applications, load pictures, navigate through a website.  Now the learners easily complete these tasks.  The similarity I find between now and then is that many learners are still not using technology in their educational-related tasks.

What the researchers do find interesting  – which is independent of age — is the attitudes to technology and approaches to studying. In short, students who more readily use technology for their studies are more likely than others to be deeply engaged with their work. (

In an effort to blur the lines between school and “outside” life, and to assist learners in using their everyday technologies to become 24/7, on-demand learners, I recommend that educators use and promote the following in their classrooms:

  • Let Them Tinker
  • Let Them Text
  • Let Them Google, Use Wikipedia and YouTube
  • Let Them Use Technology to Develop Their Skills and Passions
  • Let Them Showcase Their Skills and Passions Using Online Tools and Social Networks
  • Let Them Game

Let Them Tinker

I am absolutely amazed how easily young kids pick up and understand how to use the apps on iPads, iPhones, and other mobile devices.  If you load these devices with a lot of educational apps, the kids will explore, play, and tinker with them, finding those they like.  This serves several purposes,  First, the kids are learning with excitement and self-motivation. Second, the educator, again as an ethnographer, can see which ones the kids are attracted to.  This becomes a type of learning interest survey, whereby the educator can introduce the learner to similar education-based apps.

For example, the young man in the picture, 8 years old, had never used an iPad nor iPod.  I introduced him to mine.  He navigated through the apps like a pro teaching me some things while he was at it.  He found an app, Game Dev Story, and spent over an hour playing this game, which interestingly was not designed for his age group.  So in line with letting learners tinker is not letting our own notions about what students can or cannot learn get in the way of their own learning (quite the sentence, I know).

Let Them Text

As Pew Research noted, teens (and pre-teens) text.

Cell-phone texting has become the preferred channel of basic communication between teens and their friends. Some 75% of 12-17 year-olds now own cell phones. Those phones have become indispensable tools in teen communication patterns. Fully 72% of all teens or 88% of teen cell phone users are text-messagers.  (

This provides a rationale for bringing texting and social networking into the classroom.  Learners can be encouraged to text to one another about what they are learning;  Tools like Etherpad, Edmodo, or Wikispaces can be set up for this purpose., and for those more daring educators, Twitter and Facebook provide some other options.

Sending text messages – from the slang “wot” and “wanna”, to the short cut “CU L8R”- may actually be improving, not damaging, young children’s spelling skills, new research shows. Contrary to popular belief, the use of text message abbreviations is linked positively with literacy achievements.  (

Let them Google, Use Wikipedia and YouTube

Young people search for information, content and entertainment through YouTube, Wikipedia, and Google.

Peter Drucker, author of Managing the Future observed: “We live in a very turbulent time, not because there is so much change, but because it moves in so many different directions.” (Drucker, 1993) Effective instructors have to be able to recognize and run with opportunity to learn, and to constantly refresh the knowledge base.” The complexity of rapidly changing teaching technology makes it a critical objectives for practitioners to learn about the latest tools to enhance presentations in the classroom. YouTube has proven in the last two years to be an emerging technology with strong potential for enhancing classroom discussions, lectures and presentations.

Yes, this may mean working to unblock these sites (57% of schools block YouTube, 14% of schools block Wikipedia) to open up these channels of student learning.

Let Them Use Technology to Develop Their Skills and Passions; Let Them Showcase Their Skills and Passions Using Online Tools and Social Networks

For example:

  • Andrea, who likes to write, was encouraged to start a blog.
  • Max, who likes to draw, was introduced and loved Odosketch.
  • Chris, who is an accomplished potter and just graduated high school, was assisted in developing an online portfolio using Weebly.
  • Eric, who loves online gaming, was given a link to GameMaker  so he could make his own online games.

Let Them Game

Approximately 90% of teens have played video games at least once, with a majority of teens playing regularly.  83 percent of young people aged 8 to 18 have access to a game player in their own home. (

What if teacher gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child’s bedroom or even a child’s pocket, – if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children’s learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game? (

The benefits of using games for learning are too numerous to discuss in this post.  I have a Teaching with Ted page on Gaming for Education and Social Good, and I am curating a Scoop.It on Game-Based Learning – an aggregate of articles and resources related to this topic.

These are the strategies I am currently using with my learners.  As can be seen in the photos of my classroom, student engagement is a common factor.  My pledge to them is to continue to observe them in informal learning environments and adapt my instructional strategies around their interests.

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