His message is simple, yet almost indescribably complex: today’s students — everyone 25 and younger — are simply, physically and intellectually different.
It’s rather widely known that various experiences alter the development of neural pathways in the developing brains in children. The digital bombardment of interactive experience with games and computers. The new field of neuroinformatics studies the ways that specific mental processes occur.
In short, they’re finding that today’s students, whom he calls "digital natives," are using measurably different neural pathways to process the same tasks as those who are older. I rather wish that Joel was here to give me some hints about the validity of this research. One of my questions would be, will these same digital natives process information the same when they’re 40 as they do at 16 (when they’re less hormonally handicapped).
One of the findings is that today’s students’ attention is much more strongly drawn to the upper left half of a page, with attention to the lower right half — think about that, and think about the context of a typical web page: where are the menus? Should the producers of educational materials take that into account?
Digital kids think differently, process information differently, than we do.
Our teaching and assessment methods, he says, is completely out of sync with they way they learn. Unlike us, they can process multiple forms of information simultaneously.
Six major changes he proposes are as follows:
- It is time for education and educators to catch up, to learn the new digital world.
- In the information age, students need to be both producers and consumers of content. We have to move beyond 20th century literacy to 21st century fluency — being able to use technological tools without thinking about it. "Focus on headware, not hardware."
- Educators need to shift their instructional approach from director to facilitator, encouraging higher-order thinking skills. After two weeks, students remember 10% of what is read, but 50% of what is seen and heard (simultaneously), and 90% of what they both say and do. He thoerizes that rather than experiencing an epidemic of ADD and ADHD, we’re simply not teaching effectively to the way students learn today. If we want understanding and comprehension, we must teach in a new way.
- We need to let students access information natively. Just as calculators were scoffed in the 1960s, social networking is similarly cast aside in schools today — where it needs to be an integral part of learning.
- Let kids collaborate
- Prepare them for their future, not our past.