Learning without a licence

It never ceases to amaze me how when confronted with challenging issues we tend to default to our past experiences. Perhaps it’s because hindsight provides 20/20 vision or because it gives us a sense of security to cling to what we know. But in a knowledge age, when it comes to solving today’s problems and anticipating tomorrow’s challenges, we have to talk about a new paradigm, and look to change our habits. No time like the present, let’s start today.

I was recently asked to comment on an idea floated by Australia’s leading child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg who suggested bringing in licences for young people to use mobile phones and tablets at school; giving students access to use the devices only once they’d been taught what was safe and responsible and agreed to abide by a set of rules and conditions.

Licensing use of itself does nothing to change practice or encourage innovation and creativity. In fact it can do just the opposite. The retreat to regulation raises more issues than it solves. I can understand why there would be some fears for students’ safety but the suggestion to license students doesn’t make any sense; once students get outside the school yard and classroom, they freely use their personal devices in all other areas of life, just as freely as they can draw water from a tap.

I recently came across this blog post highlighting an interesting list of quotes from Collins and Halverson’s (2009) ‘Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology’  showing that this fear for new technology in education is not a new phenomenon.

•    From a principal’s publication in 1815: “Students today depend on paper too much.  They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
•    From the journal of the National Association of Teachers, 1907: “Students today depend too much upon ink.  They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”
•    From Rural American Teacher, 1928: “Students today depend upon store bought ink.  They don’t know how to make their own.  When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”
•    From Federal Teachers, 1950: “Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away.  The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”
•    From a science fair judge in Apple Classroom of Tomorrow chronicles, 1988: “Computers give students an unfair advantage.  Therefore, students who used computers to analyze data or create displays will be eliminated from the science fair.”

It doesn’t surprise me then that the knee-jerk reaction to technology in schools is to want to restrict students.

What will schooling look like in the future? I often think about this question and I have come to realise that we won’t find the answer in the past. We’ll find the answer in the very work we do today; work that is based on good theory and good practice. Learning and teaching has to be driven by innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. We need to have a willingness to look outward rather than inward, a willingness to look forward rather than backward, especially in Education where learning means constantly being open to discovering new ideas and information, wisdom and understanding.

Shaun Parker says students were learning dance moves from videos on YouTube.

I believe that to limit students’ use of technology is to limit their possibilities. For the last four years, our schools in greater western Sydney have been working in collaboration with Shaun Parker – a well-known talent in professional contemporary dance. The result of our collaboration in 2012 was The Yard, a 60-minute performance exploring school yard issues using contemporary dance forms.

In this STUDIO Art Break video, Shaun makes a few interesting points about how the students constantly watch videos on YouTube to work on their moves. ‘They teach it to themselves, they learn in the schoolyard,’ he said. ‘They think and move very quickly with ideas because they access that many ideas when they click on YouTube or when they chat to their friends’. He said while he has utilised that, he has also tried to crystallise and channel it ‘so it isn’t just a series of fast ideas’ – this proves how pervasive and essential technology is to students’ learning.

When new technology is faced with fear of the unknown and from a ‘that’s the way things have always been done’ framework, we miss out the creativity and innovation that springs forth. Sure, we need to learn from the past, but we also need to seek answers to the future in the present work we do. If we base all our work on past experience, we are never going to move forward.

We know what makes a difference. We know that from birth, today’s students live in a Web 2.0 world, a world which is only going to get increasingly more complex as the technology matures. Rather than default to a ‘limit and control’ mentality, we’ve got to ask the question: how do we deal with these issues?

The cornerstone of success in the information age comes from understanding how to learn and a willingness to continue to learn. It’s about being responsive and adaptive to change and having a sense of openness towards the future. We need to learn how to take advantage of the new tools for learning as they fast become available and make the most of these learning opportunities.


5 thoughts on “Learning without a licence

  1. This is a brilliant post. Thanks Greg. While Internet safety is extremely important, we need to be empowering kids with knowledge, tools and skills that can help them throughout their life. As with all education and life skills, this requires a collaboration between schools, parents, community and the children themselves. They need to be empowered, not licensed.

  2. Greg,
    Following on your theme many primary school had or still have the pen license. Students wrote in pencil and were given a licence around grade 3 after they had some sort of artificial test to see if they could write correctly (e.g. form letters without having to rub them out).

    I know this practice ended for me about 6 years ago when we had preps have 3 different coloured biros to help them identify stages within the writing process.

    I suspect Michael was trying to regulate a process that schools taught cybersafety. For me that’s an obligation we have as adults, as educators. Our students sign an annual internet agreement where we say to each other what we expect of each other. Student sign a code of conduct as well which talks about school and classroom norms that are collaboratively built and agreed upon. However these are not licenses but agreements signed in good faith that were collaboratively constructed.

    I suppose this notion of mutual agreements is more responsive than a set of preordained rules to be followed.

    1. Great comments. We know punitive approaches don’t work. As educators and parents, we need to educate our young people to help them become discerning and responsible users of today’s tools.

  3. Hi Greg, I love your blog! I am a Montessori teacher, doing an DEd. I’d like to email you to ask you some questions about what you are doing with Open Learning. How can i contact you?

  4. License to learn has the potential to be a brilliant idea. It would help to ensure that students actually understand how to use their devices correctly before being thrown into the deep end. However it’s sometimes good for students to explore things themselves

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