Strange how blog posts can happen. Start #rhizo15, go to a conference and be a Kahlil Gibran obsessive. This is what resulted.
In his sublime poem The Prophet, Khalil Gibran had this to say about your children:
“You may strive to be like them, but do seek not to make them like you.
For life neither goes backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
I love this phrase, and try to take it seriously, both as a general philosophy and parenting advice. One of the reasons I got so interested in the online world was to try to understand what my kids were up to and now that I work in this field, they are my invaluable sources of intelligence. They came to mind when I attended a conference last week and heard a fascinating talk from David White, Head of Technology-Enhanced Learning at the University of the Arts London. A key aspect of his argument was that we are now living in a “post-digital” age. This does not mean that technology has finished advancing, but that digital technologies have “dissolved into use” and become more or less invisible. Our focus now should not be the technology itself but rather dealing with its implications – this is not just a matter of teaching children to code but how we respond in culture and the arts. White also made the point that we in the education system have a tendency to see the Web as an “inconveniently chaotic library” of information. It is that, but much more importantly it is also place where anyone can publish, project their persona and to some extent live out their life. Our task is no longer to convey information (if it ever was), but to help our students “find their voice” online, for example by developing their ability to question, think critically and have the confidence to contribute to debates.
This rings true to me because it fits so well with what I see my young teenage children do. They take it for granted that they can find out anything they want online – that is no longer remarkable or interesting. More importantly, they participate in communities. My son likes to build games on the platforms where you can do these things, often in collaboration with his friends (thankfully Skype is free and can simply be left open all day), and will tell me proudly how many hundreds of plays or likes his games have received. As far as I can see, he is busy experimenting within a community, collaborating in real time and learning as he goes along.
Doesn’t this description sound a lot like rhizomatic learning? As a parent who happens to be a professional educator, I want to help my son get the best out of this learning experience so how can I do this? The answer is certainly not to set any form of learning objectives. For one thing, I couldn’t, because he understands gaming much better than I do, and in addition neither of us really have any idea where this will lead. Setting objectives would be pointless at best and at worst would shut off potentially interesting avenues. All I can do, at least while he will still listen to me, is help him understand the “ground rules” of e-safety (there are risks in any sort of exploration, which need to be managed) and do my best to help him be a curious, questioning, critical learner. And then I need to take Gibran’s advice and learn all I can from him. It’s exciting to see what I hope will be a future approach to education unfold so close to home.