So I told you that story to tell you this story. Often, and I know it's hard to believe, learning takes place beyond our control. Meaning: no matter what we try to "teach", students might find something else to learn. This happened to me. Everyone was engaged in the myths and legends lesson. They were excellent...no masterful...no, well you know. Two girls at the side of the room happened to wander on to youtube while they were creating their sweatshop story. Now, here's where my confusion lies. Students today are extreme multi-taskers...this we know. And I don't mean like I can pick my nose while driving my car multi-tasking...they can do many many different things at once (like pick their nose and do their hair). But seriously, I think this is a huge issue in education. And you know who's making it an issue - you, me, us. We have before us a generation of students that can work on several different tasks at the same time and we are not capitalizing on this amazing talent. We squander their skills. We create policies that ban multi-tasking behavior (no youtube, no facebook, no bebo, etc...) We ban multi-layered learning (no youtube, no facebook, no...), well, we allow it - but only on our own terms. I know that we are not doing a very good job of being relevant in our student's eyes. We ask them to operate in ways that don't make sense to them. When they are at home working on something, or doing learning on their own, they are free to multi-task as they please. Yet when they come to school we tell them that they are not on task. But what if they are? And what if we have trouble understanding this? Maybe we need to pay better attention to our students. This is something I have tried to do.
A while back we were conflicted about our acceptable use policy. Some teachers wanted to ban social networking and video sites (what, then, is the point of having the internet?), others wanted to police it, others didn't care. A good argument was made - we are not teaching our students anything by banning them from sites...we need to teach them how to use the internet responsibly. And I whole heartedly agree. For awhile I was "get off facebook", "no youtube during class time" etc... Not because I agreed (which I didn't) but because it was the general policy of our school. Then we decided to teach them to be responsible - and all sites were open (within reason). I should mention that we have always allowed youtube, bebo, etc... if it is being used directly for educational reasons. However, I wasn't quite sure what our new use policy was (and am still confused). I think that we decided that it would be up to teachers to "police" use. That internet management is tied in with classroom management. I am okay with this. A gray area does exist though. - who deems what is educational? Next paragraph.
Back to my story, the two girls at the side of the room...remember them. Well, they're on youtube - I know it and they know I know. You know how they know I know - because they aren't being secretive about it. They let me know they're on youtube. Most of my students enjoy listening to music while working on projects - they know that if it is okay with everyone in the room, it's okay with me. Nobody had an ipod or mp3 player so they decided to use youtube. Okay, so right now you might be thinking that "hey, that's not educational". And you'd be right...on the surface. What if I told you that music provides a background noise that my students actually think boosts their productivity (seriously, we have had many conversations about how and why). Well, maybe that's a weak argument. And maybe there was no real educational value to the youtube music video. And maybe I should have done what I have done many times in the past and told her to shut it off because it is not related to her assignment and is eating up bandwidth and blah blah blah. But like I said, maybe we need to pay more attention to our students. So I listened. The two girls starting having a conversation about music - more specifically new music; actually, new music videos; actually, which new music videos are the best and why; actually, what makes these new music videos the best and why. They were talking about camera techniques and all sorts of stuff. Here they were, sitting in my class - a class that I have designed to facilitate and foster critical thinking and analytical skills, and they were using those skills in a context relevant and interesting to them, on their own! I pulled up the myths and legends program - can we add audio...yes we can! Sweet! I learned something too and now everyone is more excited - plus two girls at the side of the room have just exhibited some amazing critical and analytical skills. All because of a youtube video. Now I could have told them to get on task - or I could have listened, which I'm glad I did. My eureka moment was short lived however, when another teacher walked into my room, saw the one girl on youtube and told her to get off because it was eating up bandwidth. She tried using her analytical and persuasive skills but to no avail. Plus, she gave some lip - we'll have to work on respectful arguing.
This has been my longest post yet. And why? Well I guess I'm trying to work through my own thoughts - but really, I'm looking for some answers. The teacher that came into my room was not wrong for kicking the girl off of youtube (other than that he should have realized that I was probably okay with her being on it so in my eyes, there was some learning taking place). But there is no way he could have known that some learning had taken place - he wasn't there for the background information - which is why I believe a "left up to teacher discretion" policy might be the best policy. However, as often happens, it became a power struggle. Now why is this? Why do students protest? If they knew what they were doing was wrong or saw it as completely off task they would be less likely to argue. They probably argue because a) what they are doing is fun and engaging, and b) we are asking them to operate in ways that do not make sense to them. If they are more interested in something other than my class - why is that? Is my class boring to them? Is it not relevant? How can I use the tools they find relevant to help them learn? How can I do this while following acceptable use policy? Ultimately, how do we teach students in a way that best suits them. Maybe they work better when they are allowed to peruse brief distractions. Maybe they work better when they have multiple things on the go - maybe this makes them feel more involved and connected (today I had a student facebook chat her friend in another school about how to survive a bear attack because this is the project she was working on for my outdoor ed class). But here is the big problem - bandwidth. There is not enough of it. Especially at our school. What's it like at your school? Realistically, this is what people use the internet for. And we can do all the listening and tuning in we want - but if the fact remains that videos and social networking sites eats up too much of our valuable bandwidth....
If our means don't meet student needs, what do we do about it?