By Eric Eslinger
Program Officer, Educational Technology, Knowles Science Teaching Foundation
Hi everybody, I’m Eric Eslinger, the Educational Technologist here at the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. I’ll be blogging regularly about the use of technology in education: using technology to teach, to learn, to run the classroom, and to do entirely new things. Before I jump too far into the details (that’s for a later week), I want to bring out what I hope will be the central thesis to these blog posts: We need to use technology to make stuff.
That may sound a little trite or glib, but I really mean it. My biggest goal as an educator is not to just teach people stuff, it is to teach people how to make stuff. The technology that excites me the most is that which empowers people to make new things out of it: authoring tools and creation environments.
Consider the question: Should we allow students to use Wikipedia as part of their research for term papers? Even asking the question means you (the teacher) have the role and authority to decide what sources are valid and invalid for a research question, while it is actually up to the students in your class to either figure out which is which, or that you’ll just tell them outright. There are always contradictions in teaching, but this seems to be one of the more poignant ones: I’ll give you some of the information, I have all of the information, and I want you to find the rest. We can also argue about the error rate of Wikipedia compared to other sources, but before we do that, I challenge you to go to a well-used page on Wikipedia, edit it to introduce an error, and count the seconds before that error is rolled back by one of the legion of ever-vigilant editors. The real problem with this question, though, is that it serves as the starting point to a line of discussion that positions Wikipedia as the new authoritative text.
The question we should be asking ourselves is not, “Should we allow students to use Wikipedia in their work?”, but “How can we get students to contribute their work to Wikipedia?”
Our new technological world has the potential to turn every single person in it from a consumer of media to a creator of media. We already see this in the social world with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine all providing everyday people outlets for them to digest and storify their lives. I firmly believe that the future of education is in this creation and authorship. As an educational technologist, I’m not here to provide you with the next way to memorize math facts using the cybersphere. We already have books, teachers, and plenty of other technologists willing to take on that topic. I’m here to help point out authoring tools, so you and your students can create amazing new media artifacts and share them with each other.
Teachers in particular are a great group for this kind of maker philosophy: you already borrow, author, and remix materials in your day-to-day lesson planning. Most of the teachers I know don’t pull lesson after lesson all from the same book; they take a little bit of this and that and glue it together with their own special flair to make a classroom that’s unique to them. Let’s start exploring technology that helps teachers do that and helps learners participate in that process.
None of these ideas are new: I’m not claiming to be the first person to have them (and in a future post, I’ll start a book club so we can read through some of the best stuff together again).