Ning in education: presenting as a first-generation digital native

Last week, I presented a session on Nings in education at the DeICE Engage mini conference.  I made the same presentation twice (check out the materials under the Extras menu above).  Fortunately (since it was my first time presenting at a professional development conference) I did not feel intimidated by the number of attendees.  (Maybe that has something to do with all of that Speech experience…)

As I wandered my way through my introduction in the second session, I began to tell my colleagues about why I had an interest in social networking.  I said I’m interested because I grew up with this long list of tools/networks.  I had seen MySpace pages as a kid; I had jumped on facebook as soon as I was accepted into college; I watched as social networks were leveraged by people my age to coordinate protests in the Middle East.  And after all of this reflection on what I’ve watched, experienced or learned from these tools, then it slipped:  “So, really, I’m a first-generation digital native.”  From the back of my head: and you’re among the first to take steps into the realm of educational technology with that background knowledge/perspective.

I kept spilling out more words that I simultaneously feared but also embraced as part of my identity: “I am one of the first coming out of the institutions of higher learning who can leverage a network to find information rather than keep everything I need to know to just myself.”  My intelligence lies in how I keep a mental Rolodex rather than writing my own encyclopedia.  And I have a pressing instinct to share. There was really something big in this “Ah-ha!” moment, but I feared this self-analysis because of the way my audience would accept it.  And also how quickly it all spilled out without much reflection on the matter as I was preparing the presentation.

I know that I will eventually run into educators who hold to education as being some sort of pouring of traditional knowledge into minds.  Graduating from my undergrad, I walked into a field that was rapidly moving more towards skills rather than content knowledge.  (My first job asked me to build and execute interventions that would help prop students up in their reading skills.)  Of course, I was prepared to expect that students learn through many different intelligences, but I had never considered that an entire generation would be seen as almost entirely subscribing to what they could learn from their connections to their peers and hopefully knowledgeable experts and visionaries (rather than manipulative, self-interested leaders with an agenda).

I can say that it’s a spectacular balancing act of deciding where I want to fall in my philosophy or approach to education: do we still need knowledge (in the case of my brother, a hard-working aerospace engineer / “rocket scientist”).   Without his book knowledge, science and mathematics would never evolve or show where our collective knowledge has not taken us so far.

Or do we need to prepare kids to keep up with others/competitors who constantly accelerate themselves because of their networks and technology.  There is no doubt in my mind that there is an expected benefit to speed in American culture, but with much of our knowledge then being only temporary, how long-lasting of a meaningful impact will an intelligence based on borrowing collective knowledge have?

While the presentation itself went well (I had lots to offer and spoke toward the interests of my attendees), I am left wondering a lot about what type of education or intelligence will serve students best.  And the bias from what I grew up with in the world…

With all of that boiling on the back burner, I have to send a some big shout-outs to some of my guides through this process:

Leave a Reply