Monday, 13 September 2010

Marc Prensky Lecture

I've just been very lucky to attend a lecture by Marc Prensky (who's visiting Bournemouth University for 3 weeks). Marc's best known for coining the phrases digital natives and digital immigrants. Whether you agree with the existence of these groups or not, what Marc had to say was very thought provoking and, I think forces anyone in education to at least consider the idea that education needs to adapt in order to remain effective in a rapidly changing world.

The key message I got from the lecture was that accelerating change is now the way of the world (I was expecting the key message to be about technological change but Marc argues that not only is the technology changing but also students (the student demographic in the UK has certainly changed very drastically) and pedagogy. I guess this is the main characteristic of the group Marc calls Digital Natives - they are used to constant change. Whereas constant change can be quite stressful for my generation and upwards. Younger generations are so used to constant, rapid change that, if teaching is not varied they can soon switch off to formal learning. A telling point was that, when asked how often teaching methods should be changed to hold their interest, students replied "every day".

I always try to approach new ideas with a fairly cynical head but I found Marc's ideas fairly compelling - I think because of his approach, which is to talk to students and find out what makes them tick. He hasn't just come up with these ideas they're based on talking to students and basing his teaching on what they need rather than his needs as a teacher or the needs of the institution. Another message was that students want learning to go beyond just being relevant to being "real". We call this a number of things (collaborative learning, learning by doing etc.) but they all boil down to the learning experience being real.

So, do we need to change our ways in light of this? As a librarian I found one of the examples particularly thought provoking (I need to find the ppt at follow this up properly). Marc asked the audience how many people loved books (pretty much everyone). He then mentioned a sci-fi book where all of the worlds books could be made available digitally - but the cost was that the printed works had to be shredded to make this happen. When the audience were asked who would do this nobody raised a hand - and this is what Marc sees as the problem - that we are attached to our old ways of doing things and not prepared to sacrifice these. I think of myself as being immune to the whole librarian as book lover thing but I have to admit I wasn't prepared to put my hand up to agree that, if the only to digitise books was to shred them, that it should be done.

For teachers I think the lecture was a call to teach in a different way - by engaging with students to find out what they are passionate about and using that in the classroom so that learning happens on a more personal yet at the same time collaborative level. For librarians I think there was an added dimension. As well as challenging us to think about how we deliver the teaching we carry out, how to we provide resources that facilitate this kind of learning. Do we need to reassess our attachment to things like hard copy books and think more creatively about the types of resources that students are going to engage with?

You can find out more about Marc's work at:

Marc's latest book is called Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning.

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