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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Authenticity Is The Barrier

I could list all of the soft skills needed to create online content, but you could also just google it and find the same list. Instead I want to discuss some of the systemic roadblocks we face.

I has a casual conversation with some of my students at the end of class yesterday concerning the prompt for this module, and the common issue they brought up was confidence. They are worried about being wrong in the open. They are worried about being wrong for the world, and this disturbed me greatly. It isn’t that the desire to be correct in a public forum is strange or that we naturally tend to hide our work from others (how may teach with closed doors?) I was stuck mostly on the same word that kept coming up - wrong. We have been trained to always see right as good and wrong as bad. So if student’s biggest fear with creating online work, of leveraging the amazing tools at hand and the unprecedented access to eyes and minds across the globe, is being wrong, then perhaps we are doing it wrong…

Perhaps the real barrier here is how we, the teachers and the school systems, are trying to implement these radical changes in how information can be gathered, created, and shared. Are we trying to mold this untapped potential into what we already know and feel comfortable with? If we continue to reinforce the culture of right or wrong, correct or incorrect, full credit or no credit, pass or fail - of course kids will be worried about creating something that might be wrong. Especially if we share their work with the world.

Let’s break down the most common, lowest barrier entry into creating online content: blogs. Blogs serve a purpose, right?. They allow kids to connect with folks other than the teacher, they allow them to write for an audience. Or do they? Sure, blog posts are for a real audience, but what is the difference between a real and a forced audience? A forced audience is real, but it isn’t authentic. Can we produce authentic situations within our confines? Maybe. I believe it is possible and also extraordinarily difficult - especially given the value system of many colleagues (value is the wrong word here). Our system isn’t designed to be authentic, and the humans that exist within our system have been trained to not be authentic within our walls. Outside of our walls we are authentic beings engaging in various levels of non-traditional learning...but inside our walls, many are not. Kids are trained to be/act/do things a certain way since K. Teachers are told exactly what the learning outcomes must be and are judged by how well they move kids from point a to point b. We are linear in formal education and life isn’t linear. Authenticity isn’t linear but we like to think it is. This isn’t a delirious scathing request to burn it all down, either. There are benefits to direct instruction, but we need to look at and address these issues (new lit) from a systemic lens. How does the entire culture shift? Once we begin to make headway there, then authenticity will follow. 

When we make things to be shared online, what is the real value? My kids write blog posts each week and for many it is a simply a chore. I ask them to think deeply and respond to something (anything) from the week’s content. It is open, there are not specific questions to respond to. And what do I get? Retelling. Why? Because it is safe. Moreover, what is the actual point of the blogs? Is a passive audience an authentic one? Sure they are public, but what benefits are they reaping from this? Even when people blog and use their strong network connections to get reads and replies (#comments4kids) - is that truly authentic? I believe the kids see the difference between forced connections and natural ones. Once that initial reaction (be it euphoria or fear or both) wears off, once the newness and novelty of getting forced eyes on your work goes away - so goes the motivation. Now, if you were truly connected deeply within a culture that embraces you and what you do (gamers, twitch, etc) - if you move from the outer to the inner circle of acceptance within a society - then you have authentic eyes and minds. Until that point, it is a dog and pony show.

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