Michael Wesch, La scuola nella società informazionale

by gabriella

Sulle vere domande che la scuola e gli insegnanti del XXI secolo dovrebbero farsi, vale a dire, cosa deve essere la scuola in una società informazionale, come insegnare a leggere la realtà in un mondo in sovraccarico informativo, come intercettare i gusti e le passioni dei nostri studenti e via dicendo, mi è invece stato utile un post inviato da Michael Wesch (Kansas State University) alla mailing list dell’Institute for Distributed Creativity (distributedcreativity.org) (ho aggiunto io il neretto, per facilitare la lettura). Il video seguente ne anticipa alcune:


Hello all,

I always love/hate this time of year – gearing up for the semester and doing some really deep thinking about what our students *really* need to learn (or more broadly, the type of person they need to become) and how we can help them.  I’m actually not teaching this year, but 7 years of this kind of thing and I seem to have fallen into a pattern. I just can’t go through August with out getting my head all messed up over these questions.

This year I have reached some tiny bit of clarity.  Not that I have “the answer” – but I have come to realize that I have been spending the past 7 years of teaching trying to do one thing (hereafter known as “THE GOAL”) while struggling with five basic observations about learning and education today.

So first, THE GOAL: Inspire great questions.

Since all good thinking begins with a good question, it strikes me that if we are ultimately trying to create “active lifelong learners” with “critical thinking skills” and an ability to “think outside the box” it might be best to start by getting students to ask better questions. Unfortunately, we can find a great deal of advice on how to ask good questions of students – non-rhetorical, open-ended, etc. – but we rarely share ideas on how to get students to ask good questions.

When I talk about “good questions,” I mean the kind of questions that force students to challenge their taken-for-granted assumptions and see their own underlying biases. Oftentimes the answer to a good question is irrelevant – the question is an insight in itself. The only answer to the best questions is another good question. And so the best questions send students on rich and meaningful lifelong quests, question after question after question. A great question is at the heart of Maxine Greene’s Social Imagination: “the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society”  Really great questions are a step beyond what normally passes for “critical thinking” and become the generative source for finding solutions (and of course, new questions.) So, on to the 5 observations:

1.  This is hard. Our formal learning environments and structures make it difficult to inspire great questions.  Inspiring great questions is *really hard.*   “Great Teachers” often get by with being called “great” and even “the best ever” on teaching evaluations without ever inspiring the kinds of questions that inspire life long learning.  (I have come to hate getting effusive positive evaluation comments that somehow indicate that the student loved me, but there was clearly little or no growth for the student involved)  There are many structures working against us – from tenure structures that restrict experimentation and time-commitment, to grading procedures and curriculum standards (often requiring standardized testing of the multiple-guessing sort).  The most common questions in this environment are often mundane administrative questions: “Can I use Wikipedia?”  “How long does this paper need to be?”  “What do we need to know for this test?”  Such questions illustrate the 2nd observation:

2. Students are tuning out.  Large numbers of students are disengaged altogether or engaged in nothing more than the “getting by” game (doing just enough for a class to “get by” and get the grade they want).  It is rare that students hold the same lofty goals of learning, critical thinking, etc. that their teachers hold for them.
Students have very different goals, which is the 3rd observation:

3. Students are struggling to figure out who they are, and who and what they want to become.  This is what Anthony Giddens has called the “core project” of people in late modernity.   As Charles Taylor and others have pointed out, the modern world is one in which identity and recognition are not givens.   Social networking and other online tools provide a platform for much of this quest.  They tune out of class and
logon to Facebook,
which leads to the 4th observation:

4.  There is something in the air.  In most of our classrooms (those with WiFi, 3G, or 4G access), 2 billion people are connecting and collaborating in the air all around us, building a vast digital archive that represents a hefty portion of the entire body of human knowledge ever created.   But thinking about this in terms of information and knowledge misses the 5th observation that

5. We increasingly live in a network society.  Many of our institutions, organizations, and social processes are operating less and less through stable groups and hierarchies and more through flexible networks and network logic.  This transformation has been happening for several decades and precedes the Web.  Technologies of mobility, transport, and communication provided the infrastructure for these changes.  We have labeled such changes “globalization,” “flexible accumulation,” “postmodernism,” etc.   All are aspects and descriptions of this change to a network society / network logic.

New media enter this stream to create new types of conversation, exchange, and collaboration. But the promise of these media are not without disruption and peril. While new media bring with them new possibilities for openness, transparency, engagement, and participation, they also bring new possibilities for surveillance, manipulation, distraction, and control. The negative side of this ledger seem especially eminent in the face of widespread ignorance about the uses, misuses, power, and (sometimes unintended) consequences of new media. If we do not quickly raise our digital literacy rates we stand to lose much more than we gain from the promises of new media.

Indeed, depending on what date one would fix as the beginning point of the network society, it would not be hard to argue that we are more self-absorbed, less empathic, more unequal, and in overall worse shape than we were when this all began.

Which makes it especially critical and disheartening that  (1) our schools are not inspiring big questions, (2)students are disengaged, and (3) pursuing their own interests in the pursuit of finding themselves, while embracing (4) the ubiquitous network for entertainment and distraction while failing to see and harness it as the most remarkable collaboration and creation machine ever created that they could use to create a better world if they can come to understand (5) networks and network logic.

Hopefully by the end of this conversation I’ll have a bit more clarity on some solutions, but I thought I should start out first by clearly outlining the goal and the challenges as I see them.

Looking forward to the conversation!

~ Mike

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