Inspiration for Leaders

Enjoy this news and reflection blog brought to you from the LHRIC Technology Leadership Institute!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

TLI – Acclaimed Writer Argues for Better Perspective on Education

If there's one thing that Marc Prensky would like to see schools doing, it's giving students the credit they deserve.

One of the world's leading experts on the connection between learning and technology, Mr. Prensky urged participants attending the LHRIC's Feb. 13 Technology Leadership Institute to move away from the old system of top down teaching and in its place embrace the idea of partnering with students and using the powerful capabilities of technology to help do it.

Mr. Prensky, the author of five books on the digital culture and education, talks frequently about designing better pedagogy and curriculum for today's generation of students and how educators can learn to thrive in this digital age.

"We have to prepare these kids while avoiding something else that we often slide into, which is what I call cellophane kids," said Mr. Prensky, during his presentation titled, "Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom," which is also the title of his latest book.

Despite what other experts say about the United States' education system trailing the schooling of other countries, Mr. Prensky, the founder and creative director of Spree Games and Games2train, believes the system is failing children worldwide. "The whole world is in this place and it is not a good place," said Mr. Prensky. "It's not just developing countries with problems; the world's education is in the toilet."

Educating to the wrong context
Much of the problem, explained Mr. Prensky, is that schools are teaching to a context that no longer exists. In a world with half its population under the age of 25, Mr. Prensky said educators need to come up with better solutions to engage students. 

The context we currently live in is described by Mr. Prensky as "VUCA," which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It's a context that is perhaps the biggest challenge to educators and to the world in general, he added.

Mr. Prensky sees education through the eyes of those who were born in this century and not through the eyes of the ones providing it. Today's students, he said, are disillusioned with the system, many of them feeling their primary role as students is to follow directions. Not that young people have all the answers either, he noted, but that adults' educational needs are very different and focused primarily on raising grades and test scores.

To combat this, Mr. Prensky suggested that teachers listen more intently to students, but also focus on the verbs of teaching rather than the nouns, which in this case applies to the tools or technologies that assist teaching and learning.

Nouns that have become familiar in today's learning environment include PowerPoint, e-mail, Wikipedia and others, but additional tools are quickly taking their place. The verbs of learning, however, often remain the same, he said. They include presenting, communicating, persuading, collaborating and learning, to name a few.

"It's important for us to focus on what those verbs are, even as the nouns to do it with are changing all the time," noted Mr. Prensky, who holds master's degrees from Yale University, Middlebury College and The Harvard Business School. "The question to ask is this: what are the key verbs we want our students to learn?"

Like all new challenges in life, technology can be scary, said Mr. Prensky. "I don't tell people to change, but I do remind them that we all need to adapt to the world we live in, to this new 21st century context."

Doing old things in new ways
While most schools simply recreate new ways of doing old things, Mr. Prensky believes that educators should be creating new ways to do what they couldn't do before. Websites, for example, even the best ones, are "trivial uses of technology," he said.

Activities such as Skyping with students and teachers around the world, using 3D printers, engaging in virtual worlds, playing complex games, creating robots and encouraging the use of the computational knowledge engine, WolframAlpha, which is not about giving students the answers to a problem but rather explaining how the result was obtained, are all worthwhile endeavors, he added.

Technology, however, can't provide students with all the answers. That should come from teachers who have empathy for them, which in turn will create a desire for learning and a passion to persist and do better, Mr. Prensky noted.

While educators over the years have been "bamboozled" with the idea of best practices, the notion of inventing has somewhat disappeared. "When something is moving as quickly as technology, there are no best practices," said Mr. Prensky. "There are only good practices and the need to continually invent better ones."

To enhance the practice of teaching, Mr. Prensky said teachers need to give students the credit they are worthy of. Not trusting them enough nor giving them the freedom they deserve is a frequent occurrence, he said. "The education of tomorrow has less to do with course, curriculum, degrees and exams," he added, and more to do with collaboration.

Mr. Prensky said schools have "gone off track," focusing more on high performance testing and deviating from the goal of creating better people. "What we should be doing is motivating our kids to figure out what they're passionate about, to think creatively, and to think critically and scientifically. I think kids would be more excited to be become better thinkers, actors and relaters."

For more information on Mr. Prensky's work or to order any of his books, go to  

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