In the TED Talk called “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy”, Logan Laplante describes how his hacker-mindset drives his well-rounded education. Outside the traditional arenas of the school system, Logan’s classes stress creativity, wellbeing, and spiritual depth. Logan’s path is through home schooling, but elements of his approach should be incorporated into the public school model.
Although “hacking” connotes dark rogues breaching firewalls, the hacker-mindset actually applies outside of computers. In fact, hacking is a close relative to the now-popular maker-spaces that are sprouting up in schools and communities around the United States. In education, hacking is important. It requires creativity and rewards perseverance and originality. These are skills essential for 21st century learners who have grown up in the digital age. Remember, the business and social problems they will be required to solve may not even exist yet! The hacker-mindset permits children to challenge and change systems to make them work differently, or, find alternative systems altogether. It allows students to explore and tinker; both processes apply to instruction and learning in history, writing, physics, engineering and so many more.
This concept, usually reserved for tech circles, can enrich the entire school curriculum. As educators, we must discover how this mindset could be more widely adopted through students’ personal input, small-group learning, and more flexible school days.
La Plante, L. (2013, February). Hackschooling makes me happy [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY (TED Talk, 11:13)
I think the most important line from Dr. Michael Wesch’s TED talk on Knowledge-ability is that “Students Learn What They Do.” As I participate in instruction for tenth grade students in World History, these students don’t resemble historians at all! If they are truly learning what they do, then “Sit Still and Follow Along” would be more like it. Watching Dr. Wesch’s talk “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able” reminds me that contemporary challenges require students to prepare by practicing. Solving real-world, complex, and interdisciplinary problems requires that students solve real-world, complex, interdisciplinary problems. Go figure! And collaborative technology like Google Apps for Education can help, but the more urgent priority is to calibrate instruction such that it requires students to use and develop critical thinking alongside the foundational concepts of the class. For example, in our classroom, it is important that students know (essentially, they need to have memorized) factors that “caused” Britain to industrialize. Without direct instruction and emphasis placed on this foundational knowledge, students would not be equipped to apply their knowledge to similar contexts. It’s here where we educators really need to pounce! Because beyond memorizing that coal, culture, rivers and farm-tech revolutionized Britain, we’d like students to think about various reasons that many European countries did not industrialize. Were these countries geographically isolated? Culturally lacking? Were there not enough people to put to work? Not enough capital? And beyond that, how about the nations that are still struggling to industrialize, today? These are the types of questions that beg us to put our brains to work. While I agree with Dr. Wesch that active participating prepares students for the real world, I also can't give up the solid ground that students gain by reading, studying, and remembering direct instruction. Education needs to be more active, for sure, but should also maintain balance between solid foundational concepts and active problem-solving.
Embracing the challenge to prepare students for 21st century CCC—College, Career, and Civic Life— we ought to remember that digital fluency is not reliant on an individual’s year of birth. While it may seem true that students were born knowing how to use an iPad, engaging with a digital environment is really much more complicated. None of us was born understanding how to build coherent messaging (online, or on paper), identify bias (on television, social media, or on a webpage), or connect with potential collaborators.
Dave White’s principle of Visitors and Residents addresses how users engage with digital technologies and the wider web. Addressing Marc Prensky’s concept of the Digital Native and the Digital Immigrant, White suggests that engagement is related not to fluency but rather to motive. Therefore, no matter who you are— or how old you are— no one’s judging your internet skeelz. What we're more interested in is why you're online, and why you're working digitally.
White tells us that a Visitor is motivated by an end-goal, his or her desire to see or to do something specific. Residents lean in and out of digital environments more fluidly, sharing and collaborating as they go. While I like White’s illustration, I have a hard time placing myself on his continuum. As a lifelong learner, I have engaged in numerous online classes (think Kahn, Coursera, and University Extensions). I also maintain profiles on social platforms, and in general, like toodling around online. However, more often than not I have an end-goal that motivates me to learn, experiment, or build presence with a new digital tool. Personal, professional, or educational… there simply isn’t the time to tinker around with all the cool tools, platforms, and collaborative options. I like to turn it off and focus on “meat space” now and then.
It reminds me of the words of advice I received from a sophisticated-looking Parisian man as I de-planed on my first trip to Europe. Are you excited? He smiled at me as if I were about to inherit something valuable. Yes. Very, I managed to pipe back. What shouldn't we miss? I asked. My best advice, he said, would be to just sort of wander about, smartly.
If you watch White’s explanation, he tells us that web users behave according to their motivation. Being a Visitor is great. Being a Resident is great. I’m just still not sure where I stand. I like to make to-do lists, I like to just explore -- you know, to wander about, smartly.
[Dave White]. (2013, May 31). Visitors and Residents. [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sFBadv04eY