Australia: Dr Dale Spender and DigiKids

(hat tip: Dave N Wallace)Ms Ella and I were discussing Digi-kids and a new way of learning over coffee this afternoon. I’m going to post quite a bit of the article here because SMH doesn’t believe in the long tail and often removes articles after a time. Dr Dale Spender first starts by discussing what…

(hat tip: Dave N Wallace)
Ms Ella and I were discussing Digi-kids and a new way of learning over coffee this afternoon. I’m going to post quite a bit of the article here because SMH doesn’t believe in the long tail and often removes articles after a time. Dr Dale Spender first starts by discussing what happens when ancient old pollies get to make policy decisions for Gen Y and the Millennium Babies:

In a recent speech intended to outline his policy for Australia’s educational future, the Prime Minister spent a great deal of time dwelling on his past.

John Howard’s claim to be an “avowed education traditionalist” revealed that he is locked into the traditional print-based framework of the 1950s where knowledge was recorded in textbooks, lessons were subject-based, and success meant memorising all the right answers.

“I believe English lessons should teach grammar. I believe history is history … and geography is geography, not place and space,” he said.

But that view of education is no longer viable – familiar and reassuring as it may be for many of those who now determine policy. It would take only a few visits to cyberspace – to the real world inhabited by today’s schoolchildren – to understand that there has been an information revolution since the 1950s. And it has changed everything: the children, education – and learning and literacy.

The adventurous, independent learners of the digital age are a very different breed from the children who 60 years ago sat quietly in their ordered rows, worked from their books and relied upon their teachers for information. Today’s students need an entirely different form of education from the scenario that Howard finds desirable.

Shocking isn’t it?

The new technologies have transferred literacy from the page to the screen. They have brought with them dramatic changes in the way we think and communicate, in how we learn, and in how we make and sell ideas in the information economy. And in education, it is the internet generation that is driving this information change.

Education professionals recognise that the students generally know more than their teachers about “doing” digital. So even if they wanted to, the teachers cannot meet Howard’s terms to “direct lessons based on traditional disciplines”. They cannot be the classroom authority figures when their digital literacy is not on a par with their students, and when their information resources do not compare with those of the internet.

Students might be mystified at first with a teacher who told them to take out their geography books and read the required chapter on the Murray-Darling. They would expect to go online (and to use Google Earth) to check out the problems of “place and space” with the water crisis. But it would not take long for their confusion to give way to more raucous and robust responses.

And the protest would include everyone from the five-year-olds who arrive at school digitally literate, through to adolescents who live life to the full on MySpace, YouTube and the Australian Stock Exchange share simulation game.

That last paragraph made me laugh. My 5 year old niece is Tamagotchi connected, Bratz computer literate, and her 3 year old brother can quite happily sit and play SpongeBob and ClubPenguin without fidgeting.

And so on. The usual stuff “But the genie will not go back in the bottle.” OH and this:

Contrast this with the confident “digital natives” who are now the students in our schools. These are the children of the information age for whom the screen, not the page, comes first. Far from being passive recipients of existing knowledge, digi-kids have learnt by doing – by trial and error, and problem solving. It is not the right answer that they want; it is the right question they are after as they fearlessly try any of the new gadgets or applications. They are completely at ease with computers and the internet, and with accessing, creating and distributing ideas and information.

The members of the digital generation are also physically active and often noisy as they collaborate, send messages, do podcasts and wait for replies (or fan mail). The youngest of them coolly click the mouse to search out the Wiggles and solve puzzles and problems; they create new words and signs, and scan their screens seeking friends, experiences – and information.

The point is that literacy itself has changed.

I thought the ‘physically active’ thing was interesting. How are they physically active? They wriggle around? I think she means mobile as in using mobile/convergent devices. Tamagotchi and mobile phones etc.
I took out a patent a while ago rewarding measurable real life activity (exercise, reading) by linking it to an online community (reward program). I was concerned about the Digital Divide and childhood obesity and illiteracy and thought it might be a solution. I wonder if it’s time to dust that idea off and look at it again?

There’s more to the article but the last part was particularly brutal:

This is why the Treasurer, Peter Costello, might have been better advised to have provided a $700 voucher for teachers who want to upgrade their computer skills. They could then have employed their students as digital literacy tutors.

Every time I turn around, I realise how technology, specifically Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 is reversing traditional power structures. The meek (ie. disempowered) shall inherit the earth, indeed.

EDIT: I forgot to mention some sites like Dangerously Irrelevant, edutopia and educause.

Similar Posts


  1. I found the Spender DigiKids article
    completely vacuous. It mainly trades on
    trying to be cute, hip, and cool
    (admidst its ad hominimisms). The article
    is solely an opinion piece with near zero
    reasoning. The sad facts are that kids are
    increasingly becoming digi-holics who can’t
    function at the levels of critical
    reasoning required by many professions.
    The cyberworld isn’t the real world no
    matter how cool is it. The literature now
    shows that employees waste enormous amounts
    of time surfing the web, texting, and
    other “I can’t bear to be alone with my
    own thoughts” behaviour.

    Content is still king, no matter the
    medium. Digital literacy isn’t
    literacy — it’s button pushing.

    So let’s stop selling out the future,
    simply because we can’t respect the past.

  2. Are you Rob Akscyn the Hyptertext guy? Cool! 🙂

    I was wondering what studies show that kids who are technology-savvy can’t function at the levels of critical reasoning? It reminds me of “studies” that show that kids who play MMORPGS “don’t play well with others” – in spite of the fact that they are often participating in a guild raid for hours at a time.

    The ‘real world’ is wherever our consciousness is, surely? I don’t differentiate between real world friends and cyber world friends. And I bet younger generations won’t even comprehend their might be a difference.

    Employees waste time no matter what. I used to read a book under the table. Newspapers are good too. particularly crosswords. Creating passionate employees ain’t easy.

    And either they ‘can’t bear to be alone with our thoughts’ implying a pathological need for social networks or they ‘have no social skills’ implying we are noddy-no-friends. I wish people would make up their mind.

    So good luck with stopping kids from participating in the ‘cute hip and cool’ digital reality. We should stamp out rocknroll too, while we are about it. 🙂

Comments are closed.