Monday, July 21, 2008

It's All In the Approach

I keep running into Marc Prensky. Not literally, of course, but filed away are various photocopies of his articles passed my way by well intentioned administrators during staff meetings. I first encountered his writing this past school year when some of his work was included as part of an online course I participated in. Similar to my initial impressions following my reading of his article "Engage Me or Enrage Me" in the September/October 2005 edition of Educause, his recent article "Young Minds, Fast Times: The 21st Century Digital Learner" left me with a number of concerns and lingering frustrations. I'm struggling with some of his arguments for why teachers should use technology in their classrooms. While I agree that technology must have a role in our curriculum, I don't think that technology is the answer to all the problems of student engagement.

I don't think that the goal of educators is to entertain our students. While I agree that in order to succeed, we must engage our students, get them to buy into what we are teaching, and take ownership of it, I don't think that is what Mr. Prensky is arguing. His articles seem to argue that technology is the simple solution for getting students to engage in the classroom setting. This makes sense given that his livelihood depends on us accepting this idea. However, I think some of his proposals for change are a bit short-sighted. Technology is not the magic bullet for student engagement, and it is certainly not the only tool that educators have at their disposal for encouraging critical thinking and problem-solving in students.

Additionally, his over generalizations and patronizing tone do little to forward what might be a number of very important suggestions - namely, that educators need to involve students in the learning process rather than dictate knowledge to them. While I wholeheartedly agree with this proposal, comments like "It is a measure of the malaise of our educational system that these old folk -- smart and experienced as they may be -- think they can, by themselves and without the input of the people they're trying to teach, design the future of education," do little to help change the minds of educators using what are now labeled as more traditional teaching methods. Instead, his arguments alienate the very voices that need his support for change. It is ironic that he touts himself as someone students can connect with "...because I communicate somehow to the kids that I truly respect their opinions," but he does not extend this courtesy to his fellow educators.

It is the goal of educators to prepare students to be active, responsible, reflective citizens. Technology most certainly can help us meet that goal. We should and must use technology to help students integrate fully into the modern world, but technology is not the easy answer to the question of how do we engage students. Instead, I agree more with Will Richardson's suggestion that "By inviting students to become active participants in the design of their own learning, we teach them how to be active participants in their lives and future careers." Technology certainly aids in the this endeavor, but it is not the only way we encourage students to active participants in their learning.
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