Friday, October 19, 2007

A 14-year-old Talks Educational Technology

"Arthus" is the web name of a 14-year-old student in Vermont who has recently become actively involved in the online dialog about educational technology. I find his voice an interesting--maybe a critically important--addition to the discussion. To me, Arthus is not representative of most 14-year-olds, but is representative of the kind of independent, engaged, proactive, and self-directed learner who will thrive in the flattened and connected world of the Internet.

Now the big question: will the use of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies do more than just highlight intellectually mature youth, and actually help to promote, encourage, and support this learning style? If so, are we ready for it? Some of what he says is going to be very hard to hear for teachers, and will feel threatening--maybe especially because of its accuracy. It's one thing to hear a teacher say some of these things, it's quite another to hear them from a freshman in high school. How will the learning environment of 9th grade, for example, have to change when you have a classroom full of youth this intellectually independent?

Notes:
  • Arthus started by seeing someone with a blog, and then starting his own. Was a technical interest, then moved to the subject of education. Started at age 11, HTML websites at 12, PHP at 13.
  • Really likes Twitter.
  • He thinks that schools teach students to "fear technology" and to really only use it for limited things and not for deeper conversations.
  • He doesn't feel that he is any danger in the web. The only precaution he takes is the pseudonym. Has never had anything weird happen to him on the web.
  • His school has a good number of computers, and is relatively well-funded, and even though they buy new computers every couple of years, the teachers don't engage with them or use them actively in the classroom. Would really like to see his school go to a 1:1 laptop program.
  • Outside of school he spends "quite a few hours" a day on the computer. He is not a gamer, though.
  • He feels that his life is in balance. He does school clubs. He feels comfortable turning off the computer to do other things. Believes that not using games (a "strict" rule he made for himself) has helped him not become "addicted." (Pretty self-disciplined!) Feels that one of the most important things is to have a "set task" when you get on the computer.
  • He was the one who decided to use a different name online to protect his privacy, but his mom is glad he did. Even though his mom doesn't personally use technology very much, she is very understanding of his interests.
  • Twitter is the "realization" of his network, since you can see what everyone is thinking and doing. You can also ask questions--almost like a "better Google." Twitter is not distracting to him. He feels he can ignore if he needs to, and he also purposely limits the number of people that he is going to follow. He's been blogging for a year, but once he got on Twitter it was amazing how interactive things became.
  • Doesn't like MySpace (interface is "shoddy"). Likes Facebook. Can easily eat up 30 - 60 minutes a day on Facebook. Uses Google Docs (formal things) and Zoho Notebook (planning). Uses Del.icio.us for social bookmarking. Hasn't used wikis very much. Uses Feedburner for tracking. Uses Quizlet.
  • Is considering doing a student-run session at the SLA EduCon.
  • Most of the people he knows who are older just use email and search, don't do any of the "pro-sumer" aspects of web. But same could be said of his own generation--many use social networking, but not other aspects.
  • He's interested in education because he is in the education system right now. Feels that when students come to school their (technology) "tentacles" are cut off. He knows that there is bad stuff out there, but the problem is that we are fearing the technology instead of the content.
  • If teachers are worried about the use of laptops in class for things that aren't related to class, then maybe teachers should be thinking about why students wouldn't be paying attention. Students should have an option of whether they want to pay attention. It's not a given that students will pay attention if you are not talking about something they care about. This whole technology is really good at bringing out the flaws that might be in the system.
  • The current learning system--one task, one person teaching--will just not be relevant in the future. And it's not reflective of what college or work life are like. The education system owes it to students to prepare them for that world. We shouldn't necessarily be teaching the tools, but teaching the thought processes that go into them. The teachers owe it to themselves and their students to be learning these new Web technologies.
  • If he had to pick one technology for an educator to start learning, it would be Twitter. It is the easiest one to use, and is so powerful. Also, if he had one message for his high school teachers for the next four years: they really need to stop being so disconnected from the technology. It's not about learning the knowledge, but the thinking.
  • He has a cell phone, but he doesn't text. Doesn't have a text plan, so it would be expensive. He doesn't watch TV, but watches some NBC shows online. He has an iPod video, but he's never bought a video--the screen is to small. He has 3,965 songs on his iPod--would be twelve straight days to listen to all of them. He listens to his iPod constantly, all day long, whenever he can. He doesn't feel that having the earphones in stops him from socializing. He values face-to-face speaking a lot.
  • He does worry about youth using technologies for "stupid" purposes: YouTube videos that shouldn't be public, that you wouldn't want a college administrator looking at. Has never seen an example of cyber-bullying. His computers at home are not filtered, and he runs the "networks" in his home.
Arthus blogs at http://myfla.ws/blog.

(It is important to note that I spoke with Arthus's mother prior to conducting the interview to make sure she was comfortable with this level of exposure. )

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