Last Friday, I was invited to sit on a panel at the Fullerton STEM Symposium, which is jointly hosted by the faculty of Santa Ana College, Fullerton College, and Cal State Fullerton. Apparently, they meet yearly to get together and look at current issues as they relate to STEM. About 35 faculty members were in attendance and were from a wide variety of STEM disciplines, though the bulk of them were from science.
In the morning, we got to hear from Mimi Ito, who works with the Digital Media Learning Research Hub at UC Irvine. Shas was phenomenal! I'd never had the chance to hear from her before, but I'd go to see her again in a heartbeat. She highlighted the major shifts in the world for which we are educating our students and how our students worlds differ from our own. One of the questions she asked and the faculty responses troubled me, however. She asked, "Do you think technology today makes our students smarter/more engaged/more social or less intelligent/more disengaged/less social?" With a show of thumbs (up, down, or to the side) at least half felt that technology made our students less intelligent/more disengaged/less social. Yikes!
I wholeheartedly believe that technology today has made students more savvy in a lot of ways. They have access to information in a way that we didn't when we were students. They can produce and curate their own content in ways that we couldn't when we were students. They connect with others around the world whom they've never met. I'd argue, in fact, that students today are hypersocial, but that those social relations look different than our own. They may not spend time face to face chatting with folks, but I guarantee you they're still chatting.
If anything, I think students today are hypercritical of traditional "school". I heard a middle schooler quoted as saying, "Why do I have to read the chapter and answer these questions. They've already been answered." They want to engage with their work and find the relevance to their work to their own lives. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. We're going to be held accountable for good, high-quality engaging instruction and I'd argue that it's a good thing.
One of our district Assistant Superintendents shared this quote that seems awfully appropriate here: