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March 05, 2007

Paper Is Too Flat

Galeal riffs in NextBlitz on what schools might look like if classwork and homework were on online.  He’s appalled by the mountain of paper his first grader brings home to be thrown away.  It’s not the waste of paper that set Galeal off; it’s the waste of information that the use of paper implies: “tons of unorganized data - very little information, context, or correlation.”

If school work were “done electronically, stored, and indexed” then parents, students and teachers could look through it for patterns.  What kind of trig problem is the student consistently having trouble with?  What are his or her weaknesses and strengths?  My thought: what weaknesses and/or strengths do all the students of a particular teacher or users of a particular text have?

Galeal thinks teachers will be able to manage their work load better if homework comes in via RSS rather than all getting dumped on teacher’s desk on due day.  That’s probably a little optimistic: he (Galeal) may have submitted his homework before the deadline but not sure any of the rest of did or would.  Nevertheless, a paper workflow IS a nightmare.

The post suggests class wikis, photoblogs, collaborative book reports and all the communication that modern technology should be putting at the finger tips of students. Is this happening in your kids’ school?

Most important is that students aren’t being taught to use the tools they’ll need to succeed in the next part (or even concurrent parts of their lives). Should everything they learn about the online collaborative world they live in come from MySpace?  How can an offline school limiting itself to paper-based communication prepare students for an online world?

The truth is that paper lacks context unless you count footnotes – which you should but they’re so dead.  Some posts from Fractals of Change appear offline in Vermont weeklies.  I have to pick these posts carefully and edit them for paper.  How many URLs can you put in print?  How do you imbed a video or a picture that you don’t have the right to reproduce?  Linking is a crucial part of the way we communicate now.  Using live links is a key part of what students MUST learn now.  They don’t learn it if they do their work on paper.

Same thing with collaboration.  Now that Galeal points it out, of course every classroom needs a wiki – not for pedagogical efficiency but because students MUST be conversant with this type of collaboration.

I’m on a plane on my way to the Freedom to Communicate (F2C) Conference.  Now realize that part of that freedom – a key part – is teaching kids to use it.

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