By Anne Collier
“Powered up, self-directed students” using digital tools “to lead their learning” is how Leslie Wilson, CEO of the One to One Institute describes what Digital Learning Day (today, Feb. 6) needs to be about in her commentary “Connected Students and Agency.” It’s that blend of agency (self-directed participation or action) and connected technology that New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says has created India’s 300 million-person “[not so] virtual middle class,” and Wilson suggests that, for our children’s sakes, US schools need to keep up!
Wilson’s talking about meaningful digital learning, which is as much about teachers’ agency as students’. “Sadly, numerous one to one environments we encounter are traditional top-down (teacher-student) learning systems,” Wilson writes. “Tools are used – but just as textbooks were used. Students are connected – but only insofar as teachers have directed their connections. Projects are assigned – but they resemble those of old.”
The great thing is, this agency is protective as well as empowering. It makes young people stakeholders – active participants – in the wellbeing of all participating in digital and classroom environments (including their own), rather than passive information consumers (see my 2010 post about this). I see it as essential to children’s safe, meaningful participation in their world now (in school) and later, when they’re out in it.
So there’s the human part – schools supporting teachers supporting student agency – and the technology part. The digital “tools” include anything from devices (cellphones to tablets to laptops) to virtual environments as simple as a blog, wiki, or Google Doc (where people can collaborate in a writing project and/or give feedback on each other’s work) or as immersive as Minecraft (see this). For example, Google offers this rich variety of free tools pointed out by Guide2DigitalLearning.com, and the list doesn’t even include YouTube EDU, with gazillions of safe, appropriate videos curated for education of all sorts.