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Connected Students and Agency
by Leslie Wilson


Thomas Friedman writes about the ‘virtual middle class’ (February 3, 2013:  NY Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-virtual-middle-class-rises.html?ref=thomaslfriedman) during his recent visit to India.  The influx of inexpensive connectivity devices for even the most impoverished in the country has given rise to their agency and involvement in political and governance activities. The latter most associated with a country’s middle class whose enhanced income elevates their sense of presence in an economy and related decision-making capacities.

Today, in Egypt, India and China, for example, persons’ access and use of inexpensive and available technologies has provided their voice for social action.  The power of a virtual middle class can well become the underpinnings of the foundation for change by the people.

I thought about Friedman’s content in the context of students and schools.  By now, we are all aware of the necessity to create learner-centered ecosystems….and let go of the adult-centered practices that have been at the heart of US education practice.  Many of us have believed (and practiced) that meaningful integration of technology with student learning provides an avenue of self-direction, self-paced achievement processes. 

But that doesn’t tell us what’s really important to giving students’ agency in their learning processes. ‘Meaningful technology integration’ isn’t creating a PowerPoint presentation, or performing numerous ‘searches’ for information. These are entry level activities. What we need are deep (and high) level activities that afford students’ abilities to create knowledge, produce artifacts of what they’ve learned and amplify/collaborate-globally and locally.

The emerging markets’ virtual middle classes are using their connectivities to create presence, give voice and affect pressure on the powers that be to move in new directions.  They are directing the movement where previously they had been directed.

 Likewise, we can create environments for connected students to use their tools to lead their learning – instead of having their tool usage dictated by adults (who know best).  Sadly, numerous one to one environments we encounter are traditional top-down (teacher-student) learning systems.  Tools are used – but just as textbooks were used.  Students are connected – but only insofar as teachers have directed their connections. Projects are assigned – but they resemble those of old.

Students need to be freed to use computers for all aspects of learning and development. And those devices must be robust enough to perform tasks that allow for deep, meaningful activities:   take and edit video, compose/create, program, engage peripherals, multi-task, store and retrieve, and communicate globally and locally.

The notion of powered up, self-directed and connected students can be scary for us adults. We take seriously our responsibility to teach, create safe and caring environments, and assure students’ achievement. The good news is that we, unlike the emerging market governments, have the ability and desire to activate students’ agency through their connectivity….unlike the emerging markets’ leaders who would just as soon silence their ‘virtual middle class’ voices.

Leslie Wilson

CEO-One-to-One Institute (www.one-to-oneinstitute.org)

Co-author:  Project RED (www.projectred.org)   

Co-author:  A Guidebook for Change




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