Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taking the Media and Technology Competition Seriously: Making Learning Engaging

“Consumer and media businesses that are trying to engage the minds and the hearts of the young understand some things that too many educators overlook, look past, deny, or find repugnant. These businesses understand they must earn youngster’s attention and commitment.” With those words in his book, Shaking Up the Schoolhouse, Phillip Schlechty aptly captures the massive problem our teachers face in the classroom. Granted, when Schlechty wrote those words in 2002, he was speaking mainly of video games, DVDs, and computer games, but those same businesses are trying to capture the attention and commitment of our students. They work hard at trying to find those triggers of interest that will lure young people en masse into becoming users of their products. Equally true today, too many educators either “overlook, look past, deny, or find repugnant” these very features of the technologies that are so engaging to our kids. We dismiss much of these things are irrelevant and shallow. Perhaps by dismissing our competition, we think the war is over. But, our students options for engagement are not getting fewer; they are increasing rapidly. Perhaps it will only be a matter of time before iPads and netbooks are carried around in their backpacks just like MP3 players are now. We honestly have no way of knowing what will next capture the attention of our students.  It’s time for educators to get over this tendency to look past all these media tools and technologies and start looking closely at our competitors, as Schlechty calls them, and ask the following: 1) What qualities do these things possess that are so engaging for our students? 2) Are there ways I can replicate those same qualities in the learning work that I ask students to do? and 3) Are there ways for me to use those same technologies to engage my students in worthwhile, relevant, and engaging learning activities? We continue to dismiss the competition at our own peril.

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