Compare this to Home.
I think it is certainly true that the majority of our youth now has internet access at home. Many have multiple devices that are connected to broadband access, including the traditional desktop that is typically in the home office area, at least one parent as a laptop from work (if not both), they may have a netbook that maybe a grandparent got them for Christmas, an ipod touch for their birthday, many have iphones, and then many have game consoles like the xBox360, Wii, or Playstation that are connected. (not to mention the PSP and iPad). Soon, we will be able to add AppleTV and GoogleTV connecting our TVs throughout the house. So, while a few homes have all these things, most have at least one.
We are beginning to see that students have more open access to the web at home then they do in the school. With this in place, the home learning environment looks a little different then what kids see at school. This open learning platform is more like having a constant feedback loop with repeated opportunities for reading, listening, and watching content and on-going collaboration.
Of course, this more open approach can be in conflict with the more controlled school environment, particularly when access to technology is limited and lessons are focused on specific outcomes and I think some of that tension represents an important value that educators bring to the process.
When our youth are given more freedom to work through a reinforcement loop that happens when you surf the web, they are able to accelerate their own, self-driven learning.
Now I don't want to create a stereotype that somehow our youth are in this constant mode of multi-tasking and can somehow manage all these things simultaneously for hours on end, because that is not really what I am seeing. What it looks like to me, is that my 11 year old is switching among these various activities, waiting for feedback from a particular activity and filling the down time with content consumption or some other engaging activity.
So, it might be that he is maintaining an on-going chat session with a couple of friends online, while he switches back and forth with the realtime stats feed of an NBA game that is on the TV. When the announcer mentions something that is happening in the sports world, he jumps over and reads an online article about that event. Then after the chat has ended or at least paused he will launch an online game and play for ten minutes or launch a YouTube video to checkout. If it is funny or compelling in some way he will send the link to a friend.
Each of these activities are in their own way a feedback loop and must be compelling for the young learner to stay engaged or they will simply move on and try something different. If the activity is compelling enough they will engage at a deeper level, reading it completely, making a comment, sharing it with a friend.
The determination of what is compelling is made on the fly based on a variety of factors including the topic, who is involved, and the emotional component of the content. (think baby laughing on YouTube). My son is a frequent online visitor of a guy who makes up parody songs about the NFL and it is really an emotional connection with that content and he always wants to share the with me.
Provided with enough "free time" learners will begin to build reading and collaboration skills and hopefully at some point start to take the role of creator. If you want to really help today's youth, encourage them to be creators on the web. Post a video, write a song and post it, blog, and even engage in Facebook and Twitter (Note: I won't let me 11 yr old on Facebook and his Twitter stream is private to friends). These are great skills they will use for the rest of their life.
So there may be some interesting things with the way kids use technology at school vs the way the use them at home. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in two programs that are changing this reality for school kids.
The Globaloria program that has been implemented throughout West Virginia (I was the Program Manager for a year) and promotes this more open exploration of learning and extend computer use.
The second program, is a program that I am involved in is a 1 to 1 computer to student program at a local elementary school that will be entering it's second year this fall. Students each have a netbook computer to use for the entire school day, everyday and get to take the technology home for homework assignments and hopefully to explore additional content.
What do you Think?
I think that next question is, if the above is actually happening at some level, what impact will that have on our youth? Who will thrive in this new environment? Is a single computer with internet access equal to many devices, or does having a mobile device at an early age give you an advantage? Maybe you completely disagree with this assessment of what is happening?