Behrman House Blog
Are They Paying Attention to Us?
Terry Kaye was in Los Angeles last week, in part to present to the Principals’ Council retreat organized by Janice Tytell. She reports that for the first time at one of these sessions, many of the participants were on laptops and handheld devices throughout the session, taking notes and looking real-time at the websites and other digital resources she was referring to in her talk.
Terry was both enthusiastic—it’s great to see that kind of engagement—and a bit disconcerted. After all, one expects participants to be paying attention, just as we want our students to pay attention in class.
Cut to the Wall St. Journal. The Journal reported in an article the day after Terry’s presentation that the research efforts of the Large Hadron Super Collider near Geneva, Switzerland require 2,900 scientists from 34 countries, and that they’re using 100,000 computers (that’s one hundred thousand!) to process the data. Talk about a collaborative effort.
As the Journal put it, “Once a mostly solitary endeavor, science in the 21st century has become a team sport.”
So what do these two things have to do with each other? How can a presentation in Los Angeles be possibly linked to the European Super Collider?
It has to do with technology and with teams. With collaboration and with what we expect from our students. With the description “once a mostly solitary endeavor, science in the 21st century has become a team sport.” (Sound familiar? Can we apply it to education as well?)
I was trained (from early childhood through law school) through traditional classroom instruction. And when I give presentations, or when I’ve taught classes, as I have at HUC and JTS, I’ve come to expect those in attendance to pay attention to me. After all, that’s what I did when I was a student. That means listening, responding, and asking questions when appropriate.
But that’s not always how it works in today’s world. Fourteen of the 16 students in my son’s 9th grade English class have laptops. They take notes directly into their machines. Are they on their email at the same time? Who knows? Are the education students I teach at HUC and JTS on their laptops? They sure are. And I know that it doesn’t feel as secure, it doesn’t feel as orderly, as it did 10 years ago.
And yet I also know that when I’m in a class, or at a presentation, I want to write directly into my laptop. It’s faster. It’s neater (I have poor handwriting). And it’s easier to organize. And yes, sometimes I’m on my email. Sorry.
So what does this have to do with you, and me, and education? At the very least, we all need to come to accept these devices into our lives, and into our classrooms. And begrudging acceptance is a second-best solution, for these are the tools of modern collaboration. They allow our students a broader network, a more diverse set of contacts and collaborators, than has ever been the case in history. These devices allow them a breadth of research and learning unheard of in human history. Just see the recent Pew Internet and American Life Project for some examples.
So that’s where we need to go. Invite your students’ iPhones into your classroom and ask them to try out our free iShma app, which is in beta-test. Devise some web-based research inquiries that they can do in groups. Have a contest—see who can find the best (funniest, most meaningful, most informative) YouTube video for the upcoming Jewish holiday, and have them share it with the class. There are so many possibilities. We cannot, and we should not, hold back the tide; let’s ride it instead.