Technology is Social
By Martha Sessums
Today’s generation of students are “digital natives.” These are kids who have known nothing else but mobile phones, computers and keypads. They are fearless in attacking and exploring an app or equipment, and can decode complex games or gadgets in minutes.
But what about kids who have never seen a keyboard or texted a message? How do they react to technology?
Gillian Tett, markets and finance commentator and an assistant editor of the Financial Times, wrote a column about a research project that Nicholas Negroponte (of MIT and One Laptop Per Child fame) and Matt Keller (a researcher who worked with the World Food Program) are conducting in Ethiopia. In fact, conducting research in two isolated villages in Ethiopia.When Tablet Turns Teacher
The purpose was to test if figuring out how to use an electronic device is innate to young human brains and observe the process for their exploration. The results were fascinating, yet not surprising if you’ve had much experience with technology, the devices that utilize it and the curious and social-focused kids that devour it.
Here was the experiment: dozens of boxed iPads were dropped off six months ago at two remote villages in Ethiopia. The villagers had no prior exposure to an electronic anything, were illiterate and lived off the land. There were no instructions given on how to use the iPads. Village adults were told they were designed for children aged four to 11 and one adult was taught how to solar-power charge the iPads. The researchers then left the village. Disappeared. Gone. They made occasional visits and tracked the behavior of the children with the help of Sim cards, USB sticks and iPad cameras.
What happened? The kids figured out within minutes how to unpack and turn on the tablets. Then, a couple of especially curious kids took the lead to explore the iPads and they taught others how to use them. Learning became social by sharing tablets and swapping knowledge instead of an isolated relationship with a computer. They used pre-installed games, movies and educational lessons, all in English, the Ethiopian government’s choice of language for the experiment. One group of kids even figured out how to undo the block on the camera so they could take pictures of themselves.
The experiment is continuing, but the results so far show how kids have the ability to rapidly figure out technology and that it can be a potent self-learning tool.
In a way, I’m not surprised. Technology uses basic logic, and kids have neural networks that haven’t been cluttered and tangled by adult society. There’s that fearlessness at work.
Also, kids can respond well to learning in social situations. This is why group learning works. Julie Kessler, co-principal at San Francisco International High School, puts students from around the world who are new to speaking English in small learning groups where English is the required language. They teach each other English fast in order to communicate. And learn.
The ACE Partner Schools are leading the way with using technology in the classroom, testing and creating a mix that works for each school, classroom, teacher and student. Computer labs, various blended learning scenarios, smart boards and projectors, student progress databases, video conferencing among campuses and video curriculum all require Internet access. Plus, a growing social connection as technology ties us together.