The Challenge of the Digital Natives

This is the transcript of my conference at «LeWeb3», in Paris, january 2007. See «My bio» at the end of the document…

My presentation Education is an ongoing daily challenge. You never know the impact of a word, and it's impossible to foresee the consequences of a gesture. All educators know that they can’t have an immediate response every time they intervene. During the last twenty years, learning tools went through a dramatic evolution, and social changes marked our families and society as a whole. Research has influenced the ones who have the role of teaching; I will come back on that later on… Since Gutenberg, seldom have we seen tools, like the Internet and the new collaborative tools, that have the power to spread Knowledge so efficiently : however, even though those tools definitively are a new landmark for the world of education, it seems that the phenomenon couldn't justify the term «Education 2.0». Although Social software allowing interaction and supporting Web editing is a great evolution in the ways we learn, that great leap forwards isn't incompatible with what was already going on in the world of education. The essential is to understand that with what we could call in «Education 2.0», a paradigm shift has reset the meter to zero, meaning that every teacher should now bring forward more open strategies than he had previously used and, most importantly, that he must now

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focus on what favours learning, rather than to be just centred on his own teaching." Teachers, nowadays, ought to consider that they teach to youngsters who are different from before, in their relationship with knowledge. They were born with the presence of technology : the Web, laptops, digital pictures and videos, blogs, emails, chatting, and even Wikis are there since their birth! Therefore, don’t ask those children when those tools came about, because they will look at you, as if you were an Alien. “What a question!” The students actually on the school benches are native of the Internet (Mark Prensky, 2001), whereas their teachers, in the best possible script, are Internet immigrants : therefore, the consequences are important: you can notice an accent when they speak and can also observe a change in their body language and tone. Any given school teacher, whether in front of a traditional classroom, or whether using distance learning with a cohort, knows very well that people will not learn the same thing at the same time and at the same speed: that is something fundamental, that we discovered from our own experimentation at the St-Joseph Institute, where I started Blogs with Elementary level students. Rapidly, our community members were quite impressed by the efficiency of our Web publication. In sports or music, a trainer knows that a learner must perform very often in front of an audience, while in development, since the feedback received after performances is a real learning catalyst. Why should it be different when learning to write? Writing in public, is an important component of learning and in that sense, blogs offer a solid incentive to learn. As a
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consultant, I use Blogs, Wikis and various other social software, such as del.icio.us, Flickr, or You Tube, so as to make learning happen, and I’m always stunned by the results. Actually, with Opossum, we host more than ten thousand Blogs or Blog’s users, and around thirty Wikis, which favoured learning structures for more than fifty institutional and ministerial projects. Opossum's cyberportfolios are Blogs organised as electronic portfolios, where we share works, where we think how to develop them and where we identify the resources that we can count on; they are already used by more than thirty schools in Canada and in France. Apart from developing a network culture, those public spaces allow integrated learning, because they create a real working environment for the students. Imagine! Doing his work for the planet instead of narrowing it down to his teacher or his parents. Grand-parents, neighbours, the close community and the greater community are all acting as witnesses, who may also take part into learning, without depriving professional responsibilities from teachers or schools. However, to make sure those tools produce maximum results, we need to accept that not 100 % of knowledge will transit through teachers: we have to accept the reality that nobody has the monopoly of knowledge. The teachers and the learning community have to accept Web publication as it is, once it's there: no censuring bottle neck! The learners can see the results of what they publish immediately and it's only thereafter, that we can manage the quality of the language with the support of a chart and with a code of ethics that has been socially developed and accepted by
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the community. It’s the interaction of those different sources of Knowledge, including the teacher's, that gives a sturdy leverage to the integration of knowledge. And I don’t talk about the old inversion phenomenon: instead of pulling condescending students to learn what I want them to learn, roles are changing, and I actually see them pulling on me to learn, in order to obtain good quality work and in order to create their own Web identity, within their portfolio… Next January, I will be in Autrans with nine teenagers who have been learning for several years with this type of learning environment. They will witness how Blogs and Wikis have changed their position about Knowledge… I’m really eager to see the eye balls of the immigrants, in the classroom. To conclude, I would like to thank other «EduBlogers» around the world, with whom I've been building for the last five years, and with whom, I still build daily: Stephen Downes, François Guité, Roberto Gauvin, Pierre Lachance, Gilles Jobin, Sébastien Paquet and Alan Levine from Canada. There's also Clément Laberge, whether I should classify him French or Canadian and Bruno Devauchelle, from France ; moreover, there are Will Richardson, Joe Luft, Al Delgado, Anne Davis, Sara Lohnes and Helen Barrett, from the United States, Corrine Bourgon and Stéphanie Booth, from Switzerland, Sebastian Fiedler from Germany, David Tosh, from Great-Britain, Margarita PerezGarcia, from Spain, and Lilia Efimova, from Russia. All of them had great influence on me and I invite you to read their inspiring works… The students that I influenced as new Blogers have given me a hundred times more than I deserve for my investment in time
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and research. Beyond the reform of education, the conflicts on teaching skills and how we transmit knowledge, I ask this question: new technologies are lowering down the walls erected around the school system; therefore, shouldn't the "digital natives" take advantage of that challenge, rather than ignoring those new ways of learning ? Shouldn't we show students how to use those powerful tools, rather than to let them learn by themselves, without supervision, under the pretext that there are dangers in their use? Yes, I do know schools that forbid the use of Google, chatting and Blogs! I suppose that they just didn't yet understand that those tools are today’s pencils and dictionaries. When our youth will be fed-up with our insignificant attitude, we may then ask ourselves why there is so much violence and apathy in our schools. I therefore call your attention for more judgement, and also, to take side for Education, rather than for control: that's why I chose to favour the learning of the art of fishing, rather than to just give fish away. And as we say in French, « c'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron », and as you say: "practice makes perfect" Thank you all for your attention and please, don’t hesitate to call on educators that you've met, since sharing is their leitmotiv!

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My Bio
Partner and Director General with Opossum, Learning and Technology Division (a subsidiary of iXmédia Group), Mario Asselin started out one of the most successful experimentation by integrating computer-assisted training at school: Cyberportfolio at Institut St-Joseph in Quebec City. At that time, after teaching Elementary and High School level and leading activities, he was appointed Head of a school, position which he held for 15 years in Elementary and High School level. Physical educator by trade, coaching has always been central in his professional life. Actually, he is involved in approximately forty projects where Social software is used as learning strategy. He advises institutions, business, Canadian Government departments and Ministries of French Government in order to support best practices and initiate the emergence of vast “learning organizations“. When he was school director, he liked so much the enterprise that has supported him in his endeavour with cyberportfolio that he became a business partner. In 2004, Mario Asselin was awarded the «CHAPO» prize by the Quebec Association of Computer users in Elementary and High School Level (AQUOPS). Mario Asselin is also preaching to his fellow citizens the virtue of wireless connections in Quebec City. Much sought-after in the media sphere for his innovative mind in education, he runs a very busy Blog named «Mario tout de go» which eventually turned into an electronic portfolio where he has been having Web conversations for the last four years. He’s the father of three boys, who are also the joy of his spouse; as an educator, he’s as much passionate with his family life than with his professionnal one. In january 2007, in France, at the 11th «Rencontre d’ Autrans», he will lead a delegation of nine teenage students.

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