a new meaning for literacy

via Slashdot, the San Francisco Chronicle reports on November 20, 2008:

Rather than wasting their time, children who gab on Facebook or play online games are gaining valuable social skills and learning some technology basics, according to a study to be released today.

The report, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, contradicts the idea held by many educators, parents and policymakers that children should be blocked from online social networks and video games like Halo, which allow users in different locations to play together. Instead, children should be encouraged to use the technologies to gain a certain level of digital literacy, the study said.

… But critics have called social networking a distraction and, in some cases, a danger because of the potential for children to befriend strangers. Hoping to limit children’s use of the services, some schools now block access to such sites.

and why not build online social networks for schools?

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Self-directed learning and brain development

via Kottke, from the New Yorker on November 17, 2008, a critique of the “brain plasticity” research published in the nineteen-nineties,” with emphasis added to highlight the relationship between self-directed learning and brain development:

This research said that, while the infant brain is, in part, the product of genes, that endowment is just the clay; after birth, it is “sculpted” by the child’s experience, the amount of stimulation he receives, above all in the first three years of life. That finding prompted many programs aimed at stimulating babies whose mothers, for whatever reason (often poverty), seemed likely to neglect them. Social workers drove off to homes deemed at risk, to play with the new baby.

But upper-middle-class parents—and marketers interested in them—also read about the brain-plasticity findings, and figured that, if some stimulation is good, more is better. (Hence Baby Einstein.) Later research has provided no support for this. The conclusion, in general, is that the average baby’s environment provides all the stimuli he or she needs.

Marano thinks that the infant-stimulation craze was a scandal. She accepts the idea of brain plasticity, but she believes that the sculpting goes on for many years past infancy and that its primary arena should be self-stimulation, as the child ventures out into the world. While Mother was driving the kid nuts with the eight-hundredth iteration of “This Little Piggy,” she should have been letting him play on his own.

Marano assembles her own arsenal of neurological research, guaranteed to scare the pants off any hovering parent. As children explore their environment by themselves—making decisions, taking chances, coping with any attendant anxiety or frustration—their neurological equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated, Marano says. “Dendrites sprout. Synapses form.” If, on the other hand, children are protected from such trial-and-error learning, their nervous systems “literally shrink.”

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“A Vision of Students Today”

is the title to this video by Dr. Michael Wesch and the students of Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,  Class of Spring 2007 at Kansas State University:

which presents a question about how to effectively employ web technology in the classroom.

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Virtual Unknowns: Poverty, Culture and Class on the Internet

When I read this in Adult Learning: An Overview by Stephen Brookfield (1995):

After criticisms that the emphasis on self-directed learning as an adult characteristic was being uncritically advanced, that studies were conducted mostly with middle class subjects, that issues [concerning] the quality of self-directed learning projects were being ignored and that it was treated as disconnected from wider social and political forces, there have been some attempts to inject a more critical tone into work in this area.

it reminded me of a Bridges out of Poverty training I once attended and how there has seemed to be something missing in the theories of adult learning that I have explored so far. Despite the attention to tailoring the learning experience to a learner’s roles and experiences, there may be an assumption in the background that fails to factor in the complexity that poverty adds to needs of adult learners.

I raise this as a point to consider because the Bridges out of Poverty training identified profound differences in how various populations process information, communicate and make decisions. As the summary of a related book by Dr. Ruby K. Payne points out, these differences tend to be “virtually unknown” to people with middle class or wealthy backgrounds, which does make me wonder about how the impacts of class divisions and poverty have been considered by adult learning theorists.

The Internet seems capable of making class divisions more profound and acute. There is already a sharp divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not. As the field of online education develops, it seems important to acknowledge the class-based differences of learners in order to reduce the risk of replicating and strengthening class divisions that can exclude populations from the educational opportunity of the internet.

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