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Rethinking learning resources in the big, bad world of digital

Learning environments   Digital learningEdtechLearning processes

If the data is to be believed we have a vast, largely uncontrolled monster in our midst. It is called ‘The Internet’. Indeed, you may well have had more dealings and interaction with it today than with humans or with print material.

Internet live stats is one report of the latest figures. The nearly 2.5 million emails sent per second, the 52,611 Google searches per second and the 210 million blog posts written this year so far are testimony to the size of this monster.

Simon Armitage post

(source: internet live stats)

The sheer quantity of information in the uncurated digital world doesn’t allow for high quality, considered, reflective ‘slow thinking’ (Kahneman’s ‘system 2’ as suggested in a previous blog post). The fusion of websites, search engine results and eBooks is a long way from the world of the traditional textbook or library.

Now that we have such open, free online resources it is time to reconsider how we, as teachers, present them to students and how we manage to get the best out of both digital and traditional opportunities.

Creating and publishing one’s own material is certainly easier than ever and, perhaps contrary to belief in some quarters, it is possible to curate this work in easily presentable formats. My school (Stephen Perse Foundation) has chosen a free, secure and unlimited cloud storage system from a well-known company. Our digital stores can be controlled and curated so that they are available only within the school or they can be opened up to a global audience. We can direct and shape the interactions that our students have with digital resources, some of which are fully interactive with embedded quizzes, audio, video, help suggestions for support, and extension ideas. . These resources are made for our learners by our teachers.

We have content control, curation and now also creation but we still want students to engage with the printed word.

One of my students recently remarked, “You can stumble across ideas in a book in a way that you might not online”. There is, in my experience at least, evidence that many students do read and encounter information in different ways on screen and on paper. One step we’ve taken is to put our books in places where all the students go. For example, we’ve put them into the dining room as a micro-library with self-issue rather than holding them in the main library.

We need to rethink the ways in which we are presenting both digital and print content to students.

The relationship that young people have with both digital and print resources is changing rapidly. If we present students with the same resources, in the same ways and in the same spaces that we did 15+ years ago, we would be making a huge mistake. We need a different approach to libraries, books and digital. It is also vital that this approach doesn’t rely on the introduction of expensive learning spaces.

What is perhaps most interesting about this is that increasingly, students are trying to find or perhaps better they are having to find, their own ways of learning and managing in this new world of digital and traditional. However, not all students will find a good roadmap on their own. They need guidance and, as teachers, we need to consider how we approach this issue afresh.

We need to lead in this area. That’s tough, because it is changing so quickly but that doesn’t mean we should back away. There are rich resources available to us as teachers that were simply not there for previous generations. That has to be a good thing for our teaching and for our students’ learning.

Further reading and suggestions:

Kahneman, Daniel. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Macmillan. Take the Bat and Ball test near the start and see how your brain works and then think about how deeply you think when you are trawling the internet compared with reading a book. Take care though in thinking that one is better than the other because there may be no difference!

Pinker, Susan. 2014. The Village Effect: why face to face contact matters. Atlantic Books. Consider how your learning spaces, including the library, promote active engagement with not only the resources but also for students to interact and form strong social as well as learning networks. How do you help students who may have grown up in a digitally-dominated household?

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