The good, the bad and the ugly

The good news is that the participation gap is narrowing, in some sense, with projects targeting the digital divide being backed by giants like Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Project Loon, which deploys balloons extending connectivity worldwide, and Project Link, a more down-to-earth (pun intended) and fast-acting project deploy optic fiber connections across Africa.

The bad news is that while young students are becoming more prolific users of technology, they often fail to recognize bias, motive, and other evaluative skills when using technology. It’s as if students can learn the 19th-century pioneer history through sweet computer games like 1995’s Oregon Trail, but not wonder about the representation of conflict with Native Americans during the migration, its truthfulness, frequency or character.

The ugly news is that while if school teach digital media with an emphasis on technique rather than social construction and a participatory culture, students will lack the ethical compass to make decisions online when unsupervised.

Throwback Thursday Movie: The Good The Bad And The Ugly
The internet wasn’t a revolution. It was practice.

Even the good news isn’t all good.

It is true there is an issue of accessibility which is being addressed. The issue, as it turns out, is not as simple as connecting each household to the internet. You’re connect, so now what?

During online learning, many of our families were stuck at home (with each other), and parents were put in a position to become tech guides for their children. Downloading apps, logging in to websites, and recording videos, probably more things than I can think of. In many cases, parents who work during the day would otherwise be unavailable to play this role. Ironically, this is the type of interaction at home that Lyman (2005) promotes superior confidence in the use of technology for educational purposes.

On the other hand, in our international school context, students get ample support from peers, and often parents, to become contributors in a participatory culture. The challenge might arise when they come to school and use digital media individually, rather than as part of the social production of meaning (Jenkins, 2006). These students might be left with other barriers like language and social barriers which do not present themselves in the online component of their identities (or their online identities).

Is Kevin here both a monster and a human? Or is he just one, erm, ‘living being’ with both identities?

I wonder if, as with their identities, if people develop social skills and digital media and literacy skills separately. Should the IB Approaches to Learning be considered in two separate dimensions? Or is it enough for students to build skills in one world (virtual/real) and they will naturally transfer to the other?

Alison Yang‘s learning agility diagram beautifully incorporates the IB ATL’s in the VUCA model. Is the absence of ‘digital’ from the IB model an omission (that’s separate!) or intentional (it’s embedded throughout)?

Questioning knowledge is at the core of the IB programmes.

If Jenkins is worried about the lack of transparency, the IB seems to concern itself with teaching students the skills to navigate the murky waters. In the Diploma Programme, for grades 11 and 12, the Theory of Knowledge course sits at the core of the model and teaches candidates the skills to question knowledge in their world, in their school subjects and the personal knowledge they produce themselves.

There are many digital safeguarding efforts, however, that attempt to minimize the impact on people who have not had a chance to develop these kinds of evaluative skills. The role of the people in charge of changing legislation, read the adults, is to promote this safety. FERPA, COPPA, PPRA are all pieces of legislation that regulate websites and digital tools used by school-aged children. This seems like a sensible “come at the problem from both sides” approach. International schools, like NIS, have developed Child Protection policies which include digital tools, like social media. One of the most interesting aspects of our policy is the provision that students link digital services (like Flipgrid) to their school accounts — notably different than ‘using your school email to signup’ for a free account.

“Everybody dances. No one gets danced.”
Richard Powers, Stanford University Social Dance professor

Powers was describing a leadership lesson when he said this quote, but it couldn’t be truer about integrating technology.

When students create a video using iMovie, FinalCut Pro, or, heaven forbid, Windows Movie Maker, they are learning the digital tools and techniques required to do so in the future. You hope that when they become that tourist holding their phones on a tripod in front of you, that at least they won’t make their families sit through 5 hours of unedited footage of Niagara Falls.

I take it back. I’d gladly watch 5 hours of this. Gif made from Youtube video by Cat Trumpet.

If, however, they co-create a video, not only will they be able to save several hours of someone’s sanity, they might gain insights on collaboration, what people value in the process, how they overcome frustration, and so on. The list of what students could learn is virtually endless and never the same for any two projects.

Technology doesn’t change a teaching style, it reinforces it.

Jenkins (2006) brilliantly put that “the social production of meaning is more than individual interpretation multiplied”. He continues:

“…youth need skills for working within social networks, for pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence, for negotiating across cultural differences that shape the governing assumptions in different communities, and for reconciling conflicting bits of data to form a coherent picture of the world around them.”

None of the above would happen in a classroom focused on the teacher. With or without technology.

Story time. During periods of online learning, the question of assessment came up. How do we give a test to students if they are able to look up the answers? The question bothers me for multiple reasons, but mostly because it assumes two things: tests are the only way we can assess remotely; and that students don’t cheat only because there is an adult in the room. Stay tuned for my TEDTalk.

In a classroom that employs digital tools for learning, like creating stop-motion animation, or any classroom in the first semester of 2020, the focus still doesn’t shift to the things Jenkins described above. It still doesn’t produce contributing members of society with the skills and mindsets that last beyond supervision, the classroom (a brick-and-mortar manifestation of ‘supervision’), and the ‘bubble’ schools create for their students.

Creating an environment and a culture that allows students to explore the relationships they (will) find themselves in, both in real life and online, is paramount.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. An occasional paper on digital media and learning. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieve from

Lyman, P., with Billings, A., Ellinger, S., Finn, M., & Perkel, D. (2005).“Literature Review
Digital-Mediated Experiences and Youth’ Informal Learning.” San Francisco: Exploratorium. Retrieved from

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