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?

  • 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 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

(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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  1. Thanks for doing this interview Steve! I've come across Arthus a few times now in our community and I'm very excited that we are broadening the network out a bit to include students.

    I saw a similar thing happen within the gaming guild that I'm in. There's an interesting online dynamic that happens as the adults adjust (and readjust) when "students" become authentically involved in the community.

    And thanks Arthus! :)

  2. It is great to hear him. And yes, there is an adjustment as students become involved. Arthus was in wow2 the other night and we had to say --- "hey guys, watch whose here." I think we'll see more of this happening!

  3. Great interview, Steve. The questions you asked followed my line of thinking entirely. I may blog about this one, but here are my initial impressions (and sorry, in advance, for the lengthy comment):

    1. Arthus is definitely unique in many aspects - even though he claims that there are many other kids like him.

    * First, he has many skills that most 14-yr-olds don't have - I would estimate that definitely less than 5% of students can do the things of which Arthus spoke (and at the same level).

    * Second, he is really into ed-tech. How many kids do you know that are familiar with David Warlick's material - his references to tentacles had to come from Warlick.

    * Third, how many students do you know that actually want to do a presentation at an ed-tech conference?

    Does this indicate a possible shift in our community as Vicki suggests? Perhaps.

    2. Arthus is definitely similar to a vast majority of our nation's students.

    * Most kids today do have an iPod (or other mp3/video) player.

    * Most have music collections like Arthus'.

    * Most have not purchased videos on the Internet (nor the music with which they have filled their iPods, for that matter - I suspect that Arthus is no different in this regard).

    * Most could "easily burn 30 minutes to an hour on Facebook".

    * I would even say that most kids today are also not gamers. I think that social networking is far more appealing that gaming is - at least to the general population of kids.

    Enough from me for now - possibly a future blog post. Again, thanks for conducting such an interesting interview.

    For what it's worth,


  4. "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."

    This comment is right on.

    In life in general, we are rarely just the "receiver" of information, but more often part of a conversation and dialogue which is how we work to get things accomplished.

    I don't want to generalize, though, and imply that all classrooms are lecture based or "sit and get" environments, because that would do a disservice to a number of excellent educators out there.

    But I do think that these idea that there's one guide for a class, and that the tasks are set one at a time, are going to change.

    How, given the current climate of testing and standardization, I don't know, but I think the market will eventually drive these changes(the market being our students and their parents).

    And honestly, if we want to keep both students like Arthus, as well as students who are struggling academically, engaged, then we have to think outside of the box, we have to engage them, and we have to make our classrooms meaningful, relevant, realistic, and current for them.

  5. Anonymous12:16 AM

    Steve, I'd also like to thank you for conducting this interview. Arthus is, as the others have said, truly a unique 14 yr old. I wish the teenagers in my house had an ounce of interest in the uses of technology Arthus has. His concerns about how students are using technology for "stupid" purposes resonate with me as I observe the vast amounts of time each day they spend entertaining themselves with technology.

    Arthus if you are reading, I respect your maturity you display within the technology-rich environment you are immersed in. Thank you for your participation in our network and for teaching us.

  6. Thanks for the good comments.

    I agree that Arthus is unique. But my wife and I talked at some length today about how the Internet is changing our cultures--and how institutions that have depended on inherited or historical authority are going to find themselves facing challenges by those they expect to just follow. It's one thing to have educators discussing the relative merits of formal schooling. It seems like quite another to receive such a critical broadside from an articulate 14-year-old.

    We've noticed in our area (Northern California) that many of our friends' kids are taking the high school proficiency exam and starting college instead of going through their senior year. These youth are making a very calculated decision--they don't feel there is really anything significant that they will miss, and they can save a lot of money on their college education by completing a certain number of credits at the local junior college. And a lot of their affluent parents are entrepreneurs who may not feel that the traditional path is that important.

    I would suspect there have always been "Arthus"-like independent voices, but now those voices--the voices of those who were once only the audience--are much more likely to be part of the dialog.

  7. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Thank you everyone for the good, positive comments.
    I think there will certainly be some strong changes in any community when you add in different demographics. I think this ajustment of attitudes and policies is integral, it keeps everyone on their toes and thinking. Now just think what would happen if students were allowed into true leadership decisions, where they could authentically direct the direction of their learning!

    @darren draper: I'd love to answer any questions you might have for a possible post. You can contact me through my blog:
    I often feel the contrast between living a normal teenage life, (girls, sports, Facebook, music) and participating in higher level discussions. However, I think that it is this contrast which keeps me sane. :)

    @carolyn Thanks... I think that is the most important aspect of education we must change in the future. We must turn education into a truly multi-source, multi-medium situation where everyone is included. (All learning abilities and styles)

    @brianc I'm glad I earned your respect. I would like the thank the entire network for welcoming me so well into the education discussion. You could have very easily turned me away as just some crazy kid. (Though that would be very hypocritical of the ideas you are trying to enact)

    @Steve Once again, I'd like to thank you for conducting such a great interview and asking very engaging questions. I think you are quite right that this new media technology is helping to bring together the "independent" thinkers and form a larger discussion which is far harder to ignore.
    As for skipping senior year of high school, I'm already looking into that. Still, that's 3 years away but it does seem like a logical course for someone with interests similar to mine.

    Everyone, thanks for all the support. If you have any questions, send me a tweet or use my blog's contact page. (

  8. Anonymous9:38 PM

    I would venture to guess that Arthus is a 'gifted' 14 year old. His blog exhibits many qualities that we look for when identifying TAG kids. It's great that he has found an authentic way to follow his passion and keep himself engaged. Technology is so important for GT kids in connecting them to the wider world and particularly to mentors, and others interested in their area of passion. This is a perfect example of how Web 2.0 is really important for gifted kids.

  9. Michelle:

    I appreciate what you have said. However, I would want to really extend beyond those typically identified as gifted. I have got to imagine that a variety of circumstances can impact a student and lead them toward engaging their talents, and that Web 2.0 and the Internet provide the potential for many more students to have experiences that allow them to engage in the same way that Arthus has.

    For instance, I have a daughter who has read every book she can find on dogs, birthed puppies alone when she was very young, and clearly has a gift with animals. There is really nothing in her traditional schooling that supports or encourages developing those talents. I hope that the increase in information resources, the ability to connect with experts all over the world, and the potential changes toward personalized learning will give many more students the ability to be like Arthus.

  10. I'm really impressed of Arthus' competencies, given his age. Do you know of any more examples of such bright community members?

  11. Anonymous5:09 PM

    Honestly Arthus is Kind of a loser. I mean really. Does this 14 year old have nothing better to do. Does he have friends? Loser is a strong word. But really. C'mon arthus. Go Bowling.

  12. Anonymous5:17 PM

    If it is true, and Arthie is just 14, then he is a brilliant specimen. But, lets face the facts; I don't like people smarter than me. Although he likes Facebook, will he ever have the necessary social skills with his peers? Plus, why spend your time complaining/arguing with others over technology when you could do other things. Like what you ask? Well, you could worry about Britney Spears, if the Miami Dolphins will ever win a game, your family's problems. So, in a nutshell Arthus, go BOWLING!

  13. Anonymous4:55 PM

    I think that it this 14 yr. old knows more technology the most of our parents know. I think he has a very unique perspective on educational technology for a 14 yr.

  14. Anonymous1:12 AM

    One of the highlights of the 2007 AECT International Convention was the fireside chat with Marc Prensky and 5 high school students. Prensky pretty much said the same thing he’s been saying for years (I’ve heard and seen that speech and presentation 3 different times now) but the students brought a fresh perspective to the technology integration conversation. It was great to hear students describe what they consider to be ideal instruction, assignments, assessment, and the desired classroom environment. I sat there thinking that we need to hear from students more often. You can read a transcript of this event here.

  15. Steve, This was the first of your interviews that I chose to listen to and I have to say I was blown away.

    This kid will end up taking his place in Web 3.0 fame and replace one of the current gurus!

    This interview also confirms my theory that the greatest new web apps and services are being created by young minds who have not been polluted by the things of adulthood!

    I really want to start a coding program at my local tech high school but am not a coder, just a board member.



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