The child on the cover of Greg Whitby’s new book looks down at his phone, leaning to one side and away from the viewer, curling a thumb over a tiny screen. At first glance, he’s a symbol of disengagement, challenging educators to lift his gaze. You’d say impatient with schooling, hiding away in the back row, cultivating a look of defiance. His melancholy pout seems practiced, selfie-ready. If he’s asking for anything, it’s for someone to confiscate his phone.
But you shouldn’t judge a cover until you’ve read its book. Having finished Educating Gen Wi-Fi I see this child as attentive, not distracted; learning, not resisting; asking only to use the tools of his daily life to contribute to life at school. As Whitby explains: “For today’s young people technology is more than simply something you use for fun or a novelty, it is an integral and natural part of life.” Why should school be different? Over seven well-argued chapters, Whitby unteaches my impulse to confiscate.
He argues from context. If mobile technology is ubiquitous, why would schools resist it? Like Tom Whitby in Edutopia, Greg argues against schools banning mobile phones, calling such policies “a side effect of digital immigrants making rules for digital natives.” Instead, the culture of online commentary and criticism should enter the classroom via learning activities and in-class assessment. Students should have their digital voices affirmed, not marginalised. This is especially true within a changing environmental context in which “we should be educating our children to take action rather than recite facts.”
But the book isn’t only polemical. There are instructive case studies throughout, giving practical ideas about how to better integrate technology and learning. A few that struck a chord:
- Submission – how should we “hand in” assignments in an information age? What texts should students produce, who should view them, and how should feedback be given? Web 2.0 gives unprecedented scope for sharing student work with authentic audiences, who might also be well-placed to offer critique.
- Skills – with interactive encyclopedias in everyone’s pocket, it’s foolish to see the teacher as the source of content. Exercises should allow students to source and critically evaluate diverse material, irrespective of whether it’s familiar to the teacher. The role of the teacher is not to bring but to see.
- Communication – is this the end of “hands up please”? Technology offers tools for simultaneous communication across a community, even if the discussion is focused/contained. I’d love to explore ways of allowing all students to be contributing to class discussion rather than opting out or waiting their turn.