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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remaking Learning

20 January 2010

Interesting piece in the NYTimes today: "If your kids are awake, they're probably online." The piece describes a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Here's the money quote:

"Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week)."

More interesting than the article itself were the almost 100 comments from folks of all generations -- parents bemoaning their kids' excessive use of media to 20-something year olds commenting about how they don't quite feel ruined for life.

Most of us are looking for rules of the road: are parents supposed to restrict how much media their kids use? Or are they supposed to provide access to everything so that the kid is "in touch" with the world? And what about schools? Should "texting" be a part of the curriculum along with reading and running a mile?

I'd argue that the debates over media usage miss a fundamental distinction: are you a consumer or a producer?

Here's what we know about consumers and producers:

If all you do is consume, you will get flabby. Flabby in body, flabby in the head, and flabby in spirit. Some consumption is essential. But to do nothing but consume all the time is deadening.

To be a producer, however, is an energizing experience. You exercise whatever abilities you have -- physical, emotional, spiritual. You may produce goods; you may produce art. It doesn't really matter very much. To produce something creates a sense of personal value. You feel that you control some tiny portion of the universe.

So to that end, when we use digital media to produce something -- whether it is a gadget or a movie -- we triumph. Our "media centers" should be digital workshops. They need to be about creating stuff. The reason we tap digital resources to supplement our teaching is to inspire kids about how to invent or create a portion of the world.

Maybe that's the connection between the classroom world and the "makers." We want to teach how to create stuff. Some of it happens inside the school. Some of it happens outside the school. The internet is a vast sea where we can fish out the resources that we need to get to build something. But it's providing resources, just like the oceans provide the starting point for a fabulous seafood dinner.

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