Connectivity, Inquiry, and Learning

Ever since the 1990’s when “google it” became a standard expression, a verb,  and a universally understood action, I’ve wondered how lives would change as “google it” would be a reality anytime and anywhere.  For a moment, consider how much more information is being exchanged in your lives with our ever expanding connectivity?

As 2012 closed down a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking about this even more.  Over the holiday, while spending time with my wife and two sons (both in their 20’s) we were regularly engaged in discussions that often led to a need for additional information.  One of us would inevitably “google it” to complete the discussion, or more often win the debate! This was true in our house, in our car, on the beach, or on a hike.  Growing coverage and access in Ghana is impressive!  Besides seeking debate-winning nuggets of information, we regularly gathered movie reviews, weather reports, and news headlines.    We listened to news podcasts, watched video clips on Youtube, skyped with family members on other continents, fact checked through Wikipedia, and checked on work responsibilities. We looked for directions using Google maps, tracked international flights, ensured we understood the rules to card games, and downloaded reading materials and ebooks.  We had a very personal and intimate experience as a family but, make no mistake, we were plugged in, (when we weren’t napping with our books on the beach) and we were online using our connectivity.   I do like my iphone and ipad!

Beyond a minimal nugget of information to sway an argument, I found myself thinking more and more about how this extensive connectivity provided opportunities for my individualized learning.  While traveling down the coast, we were picking and choosing the topics and the timing for extending our learning.  We were glad to have solid 3G access as we searched and shared historical information about Cape Coast, Elmina, Axim, the history of the slave trade, and the rise of the oil fields. These were important moments during which we expanded our knowledge and understanding.  All we needed was a good question, a line of inquiry to explore, and our iphone and ipad.

How did we manage in the past?  I remember holidays growing up and having spirited conversations about world topics around my dinner table with older siblings.  When a topic required additional information someone would break out the Encyclopedia Britannica to enhance the debate!  Incidentally after a 240 year tradition, the printed version of the encyclopedia was halted in March, 2012.  Now we download the equivalent Encyclopedia Britannica to our iphone and ipad.

Being online and connected is the norm for our students and for adults within the LCS community. Being online implies access to information. Managing this constructively is the opportunity. Learning how to be a productive and responsible user of technology is an ongoing experience.  It requires opportunities, direction, guidance, reflection, and knowledge. Teachers and parents have an obligation to help students manage and understand the risks, challenges, and potential with responsible connectivity to an iphone and ipad.

We also have a collective obligation and opportunity to support children in nurturing their curiosity.   An aggressive inquirer with internet access anytime, anywhere is a perfect match.  I came across this story the author day from a New York Times article (January, 1988). I have shortened the original article.

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11, 1988 was once asked, ”Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?”

Parents and educators should embrace his answer.

Dr. Rabi’s answer was profound: ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions -made me become a scientist!”

Imagine an iphone or ipad in the hands of Isidor Rabi when he was a 6th grader? I embrace the idea that children should be considering the questions that they are asking at school every day. Every child should come home from LCS, each day, and tell their parents about the interesting question that they asked that day!  Not necessarily because we want everyone to be a scientist, but we want everyone to be an inquirer.  Moreover, we want to harness our growing anytime, anywhere access to information and sources.  This is, without a doubt, a driving focus for our technology growth at LCS in the coming months and years.

Students are connected throughout the day at LCS.  Between smart phones, i-pads, and laptops many students bring their favorite tools to school each day.  In addition, the secondary school has 60 laptops that are checked out regularly to individual students for use in classes during each of the four blocks throughout the day.  The 60 laptops we have for student use in the library are checked out continuously during each school day.   Over the past decade, many schools have adopted “1 to 1” laptop programs.  LCS has adopted a “Bring Your Own Device” approach around technology.  This BYOD approach allows students to use their own devices on the LCS network while we also provide access through our library laptops for students to use.

Our connectivity has improved as our bandwidth has grown.  This will continue to improve in the future as we recognize building a strong infrastructure focused on bandwidth is essential at LCS.  With extensive connectivity comes any time, any where access.  Access that ranges from social networking sites to research approved sites to productivity tools.  We regularly discuss guidelines for such access. For example, should students have access to Facebook during a school day?  We aim to develop responsible users.  Students will learn to manage choices and make good decisions when connected.  Notorious for multi-tasking while online, teenagers (and adults) must develop responsible habits that support learning, not interfere with productivity and learning.   Rather than limiting options, learning skills to manage options is the goal.

Anytime and anywhere access, improved connectivity, web enabled phones and tablets, and skilled aggressive inquirers and thinkers will ultimately lead to changes in how we approach teaching and learning.  Leading, inspiring, and managing these changes is the responsibility of teachers, parents, and kids.



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