Darcy Norman recently had a great post on current definitions of the digital native and spaghetti sauce. I love his metaphysical marriage of such unlikely bedfellows as learners and gravy. He adopts this conceit from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2004 TedTech Talk in order to talk about the varying modalities of teaching and learning in technology we need to be aware of. Darcy has a great list of considerations that may lead to richer approaches to the intersection of teaching and learning:
1. There is variabilty in preferences (whether in spaghetti sauces so learning styles) and that understanding that variation is not only expected but necessary for success.
2. People don’t know what they want. They might say they would prefer the Italian sauce, or pervasive ubiquitous online communication. But individuals either have difficulty identifying and communicating their actual preferences, or they may be truly unaware of them (whether as a result of cultural pressure or other factors).
3. We need to better understand the variables that affect our interactions with students. It’s not enough to say that students are “Digital Natives” or “Net Genners”. There is no One True Student. Individuals vary by learning style, experience/comfort with various strategies (online and offline), socioeconomic status, maturity, locus of control, etc… and we need to identify common clusters of these variables and develop strategies to support these groups (and the individuals that compose them).
I am particularly interested in the third point. More specifically, this idea of the “locus of control,” and I am very interested in thinking through the implications of this phrase in more depth. But for now, a couple of questions occur to me -how do computers both facilitate new spaces of control for students that are simultaneously liberating and imprisoning? In other words, as we all work towards conceptualizing these tools for the future that avoid facile categorizations of generation-based learners, to what extent have we been tracing the potential questions surrounding the prison house of technological forms? (BlackBoard might be understood as one form we have been imprisoned within for the last ten years.) To what extent do we need to be moving towards proliferating the locus of control for one’s own “educational learning environment” (to quote a recent conversation with Dr Glu) that enables them to define the space within which they learn. “Spicy,” “Chunky,” and “Extra Chunky” Spaghetti sauces capture a lot more diversity that the prominent, proprietary LMSs we have out there today -but they’re still canned!
One key may very well be working towards a series of unique spaces (with shared tools) that students bring with them to their education experience. Hosting space is cheap enough these days to build it into tuition costs (or require it as a four-year text), and it would work towards allowing students to actively frame the virtual learning spaces they inhabit. Just think about, what if you have thousands and thousands of college students hacking, playing and working towards defining a truly distributed, collaborative, and loosely integrated learning network. This not only changes the dynamics of power, it also enables colleges and universities to re-position themselves at the cutting edge of teaching and learning technologies. This reclaiming of the locus of control from third-party vendors of proprietary software is key to fostering innovation and collaboration on one of the, if not the, most important fronts of 21st century education.