Personally I was skeptical about the notion that a learning style might be generational. The digital natives, digital learners, net generation and all that has been a mildly useful motivator or reasoning in teacher training, but I never truly believed it was a valid.

That’s because I have not been in a classroom setting with a bunch of teenagers for a while. A bit over a year and a half to be precise. And its also because down here in deep dark Dunedin there is very little broadband and so I surmise that that would mean there would be very little power Internet use amongst the kids. That was until today, when I subbed a class for the Travel and Tourism Department. I was to teach research skills to a bunch of teenagers! To be honest I was sweat’n it.. how the hell was I gunna make this interesting?

But first, a video sent by Gary Sewell through the TALO email list:

So, 20 minutes before class I set up a wikispace starting with the following sentence:

Researching together is more effective than researching alone.

Did you like that? I like that, and they did too! Phew, great start. Now for my mistake. After briefly outlining what a wiki is and how it might be useful for researching together, I told them about the edit button. Boom! faster than I could click edit and save, the wiki was deleted! Surprised but not flustered I showed them the history and it didn’t take long (about 3 minutes) for someone to work out how to revert it. I had to double check at this point. “hands up who has used a wiki before?” no hands…! Just intuition

This little hiccup disrupted the group a little and there was a lot of noise and fiddling going on. I managed to get them collectively focused on the first question: “what might we need to research in tourism?” To try and control the edit conflicts, I had one person take notes from the suggestions. As usual it was hard to get people to speak up, but we got there with some age old teaching tricks. The notes went in and the edit clashes kept happening. Big lesson – don’t point out the edit button too early 🙂

After we got a few examples in there, I referred to the list of search sites and content repositories I and put in there earlier. I asked them to use this list to search for good links and resources related to the research examples we had brainstormed. If they found anything of interest, they were to come back and paste in the wiki with a sentence explaining the link. At this point I became aware of the 3 international students in the group using their translator computers 🙂 LOL I set the rest of the group to task and went to the internationals for further explanation.

It is this task that needs following up. Search techniques, remaining focused, how to drill down and assess the social links, finding the motivation and techniques to look carefully. I didn’t labour on any of this and observed with joy the kids having fun pulling up silly youtube movies, doing flickr image searches, and some making serious attempts. I knew that they knew that anything I set them to do was going to be a one off, so I saw no reason to attempt to keep them on any hypothetical task at the expense of more engaging discovery fun. I just wanted them to be exposed to it all. And I really wanted to see the extent of their digital native-ness. And boy was I amazed!

Within minutes they had worked out how to embed the Youtube movies into the wiki. Somehow GoogleMaps came up and I showed them CommunityWalk. At least 4 in the group started up their own CommunityWalk map. Others started up their own wikispace and I walked around trying to clarify some of the chaos and confusion in the air.

It was amazing to watch! Within 40 minutes this group of 12 or so had experimented with more information and communication technology than I have managed to get any group of 12 teachers to do in 12 months!!

Our librarian Wendy2.0 was there to observe. I bet she was a bit skeptical by the lack of focus on research skills, and maybe a bit concerned that the class was wild and going in all sorts of crazy directions at different times, probably leaving behind maybe 4 of the group. I know I was a little concerned, but what could I expect? But I did get the sense that the group had been exposed to something they hadn’t seen before, and that they understood the possibilities – as a group. That their energy (if nurtured and maintained) will over time find a constructive way to use these tools in their study, and the 4 will pick it up like most people do in such socially active learning environments like this group.

But this will require follow up. The regular teacher will need to be aware of this class activity (they did not come to the class!), the learning support guys need to be at the ready to work on some of the fixable problems that emerged from this session.. such as focus, search techniques, drilling down etc. But those teachers are not ready! It will honestly take them a year to understand what these kids intuitively grasped in minutes!! This is a scary thought!

We need the students to teach the teachers!!

Like I said, I was skeptical to begin with. I’m a believer now! We teachers have got to get happening! Make sure you check out the furious history of that class wiki.