Friday, November 20, 2009

Students as Swiss Cheese

Recently, Karen Cator was named director of education technology at the United States Department of Education. However, this past summer she was still serving as Apple's director of education leadership and advocacy. In that capacity, she rolled up her sleeves and guided our groups through the challenge based learning process at the ADE Institute in Orlando.

I can't remember the context of her remark, but I vividly recall her remarking that today's students have a “swiss cheese” knowledge base when it comes to technology-- they know a lot and they know nothing.

Of course, a common perception of adults (especially those who are intimidated by tech) is that the students are incredibly proficient. Consequently in this blog (e.g., The Digital Natives Aren't that Restless) and during my presentations, I tend to emphasize what they don't know. But that's not really fair, because when I introduce tech tools in class, I presume they will pretty much take off on their own. This is not because they are all savvy-- some can't even set up a Google Account without help-- but I can at least assume a "swiss cheese" competency of the class as a whole. I recently had groups of students synch a video with an mp3, create amazingly cool designs on clunky old Google Sites, and produce cool slide and video presentations with very little guidance.

I never assume that any one student has such aptitude, but if we are doing group work I have faith they will pick up the techy stuff on the fly. The kids are also more comfortable than adults dabbling with tools and don't get hung up on feeling like they have to master it in order to "get it." Most importantly, if even just only one student gets what I showed them about slides, audio, video, etc., then the knowledge usually goes viral within the group.

Yes, there are holes in the cheese, but it's solid enough that my kids learn to use tech in my classes without me spending much time teaching it. That's pretty cool.

"Swiss Cheese" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by thenoodleator

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