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Thinking in a Hyperlinked Word

February 6, 2004

It is funny how an article, a thought, at times can just shake you….. in the last month I have been fully immersed in Mark Presnky’s blog and the result with a combination of things that I keep on noticing more has been this entry…..

A group of six grade students are outside with their teacher launching small bottle rockets with pressurized water and air pumps. As the teacher makes the final adjustment to the launching gear, a student takes out his cell phone. The first rocket is launched and the student with the cell phone quickly snaps a picture. The teacher looks at the student and asks, “Why do you have your cell phone out?” “Oh I am taking a picture to e-mail it to my friend; we want to post it on our website.”

It is late at night, a 9th grade student is busily immersed in front of her screen, writing a chemistry report, as she surfs the internet for resources, opening another browser window, she re-reads the assignment on a class website to make sure she is on task. At the same time Instant Messaging with a friend for help. Then her cell phone rings, another friend wants her to download her favorite this song. The student pops open her e-mail and the link to the song is there which she opens and downloads the file, then with her media player listens to it while still working on her assignment.

A group of students exchange text messages on their cell phones before the mid-term quiz in the school library. At the same time they’re surfing the Internet for last minute information and e-mailing the links to each other. One of the students is collating all the links, text messages and answers. From a library computer he posts them on his website, and then instant messages the link to the page he has just built to his friends.

Daily, as an educator of information communication, I come across similar anecdotes from my colleagues and witness such scenes myself with increasing frequency.

A world in which were hyperlinks, instant and/or text message, website can immediately connect our students to peers, information, music, multimedia, and facts. These students interact and communicate in a hyperlink world. Their world is non-linear: made up of a series of connections using a multitude of mediums to instantly communicate and act upon information. The norm for many is having multiple browser screens open, while instant messaging and talking on a cell phone with a couple files being downloaded as they listen to online music, and work on an application, all at the same time.

As I notice this and then walk around my own school and pop my head into some classrooms and see textbooks on desks and teachers lecturing off a white board facts and figures as the students jot down notes on school binders, I ask myself: “Is there a gradual disconnection occurring between the world of classroom and the students’ world out of school?”

The past experiences we draw on in our teaching are from a world in which a more linear form of thinking prevailed. So as new generations of these students grow up with this hyperlink world in their consciousness and end up in our classrooms, how does one accommodate them within this new paradigm and still facilitate the subjects we teach?

This type of student will not disappear tomorrow. They are here to stay and most likely will gradually feel alienated from the way they have access to information at school, so different from how they access information at home.

As educators we have a unique opportunity to provide a bridge between their experiences at home and at school.

I feel strongly that many of the methodologies we often adopt to cope with these changes are tool-centered (focused on having lots of hardware with bells and whistles) and very few are based on the pedagogy of multitasking, interacting in a hyperlink world, and working in multiple mediums, being media literate with instant information.

For our students this is the norm, this is the world they breathe and identify with. I see third graders field an instant message and/or e-mail while gaming and listening to music online.

There is no doubt that to many of us educators, this hyperlink world is something we interact with on the surface, and rely on more and more in our own lives. But for many of us, it is not second nature. We still like to print out our e-mails to read them; we will pass CD’s around or a DVD to colleagues. We most often prefer leaving a note in our friend’s mailbox or a message on their answering machine. There is nothing wrong with this, and to me just shows how in many ways our language of habits and working with information technology is radically different from what our students feel comfortable dealing with.

There is nothing wrong with this and it just shows to me how in many ways our usual ways of working with information technology is radically different from what are students are used to. The challenge, and where I think international schools need to start opening a more aggressive dialogue, is how do we as educators start developing concrete pedagogic methodologies to accommodate this new world our students identify with and at the same time, continue drawing on the knowledge and skills we as educators possess.

International Schools are in a unique situation where many students are from affluent backgrounds and have parents who jobs require them to be more and more reliant on these new forms of technology and modes of interaction.

At home, most often they have access to broadband internet if not modem internet. They also have a computer in their room, a cell phone, an MP3 player, and multiple identities to use with their instant message program and e-mail accounts, a personal website and a shelf full of downloaded movies and music.

The reality is we are in direct competition with this world of instant access to information, ready to be delivered in a multitude of sensory channels/methods. As an educator of information communication technology, I see this as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves: let us rethink how we deliver information in the classroom.

….. let us all, as international educators, start thinking beyond digital.

John @ ISETS

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