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2001 Gwen Gawith: Digitised Cinderellas

2001 Cathy de Moll: The Internet and September 11 disaster

2001 Mark Treadwell: Cognitive and conceptual development

2001 Gillian Eadie: ICT directions

2001 Rob Green: Integrating ICT into the secondary curriculum: PD for teachers

2001 Gwen Gawith: Garbage detection is a key component of information literacy

2000 Ron Johnston: Knowledge is abundant, but the ability to use it is scarce

2000 Stuart Hale: The last communication revolution.

1999 Pete Sommerville: Virtual field trips.

1999 Gwen Gawith: An open letter to Bill Gates.

1999 Gwen Gawith: Hype, hope or information literacy.

1998 Mark Treadwell: The emperor's new computer.

1998 Nola Campbell: A conversation about being online.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Intelligent technologies: Teaching for information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and ODL: Rent an information literate luddite!

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and learning.

1996 Gwen Gawith: IT: charms or challenges.

1994 Gwen Gawith: new technologies: new skills for information literacy.

information literacy:
ICT & learning online

Digitised Cinderellas Sweeping Cyber-Realities.

Gwen Gawith

11 September - when the world of computer and video games and celluloid simulations became a pale imitation of all-too-real reality...

There can be few parents, teachers and responsible people anywhere in the world NOT asking about the realities of the world our children are inheriting, and the role of media and technologies in dealing with that world - mentally, emotionally, morally.

The hideous events of recent weeks, and the nature of the media coverage, reminded me of a chance remark at the end of a conversation with Carolyn Coil in Good Teacher, Term 3 (see www.TheSchoolQuarterly.com, Information Literacy Archive). We were talking about her concept of kids as ‘Digitised Cinderellas’ and her observation about the dissonance between ‘their’ world (including their cyberworlds) and what they are required to do with technology in schools.

Is this dichotomy new? There’s always been tension between the entertainment and ‘edutaintment/ infotainment’ purposes of media like television, videos, CDs interactive videodiscs and now DVDs. Is this why each technological ‘solution’ which was expected to revolutionise education has failed to deliver? Is this why so many sensible educators, themselves enthusiastic users and champions of learning technologies, are asking hard questions about the educational gains demonstrated after a decade of investment in technology and wiring and enough hype and rhetoric to generate a completely false sense of educational reality?

The ‘virtual reality’ of cyberworld is, in fact, not reality at all; it’s the ultimate fiction in that it is multidimensional, multisensory; constructed from the images, colour, sound and sensations of reality, not just words.

Is there inherent conflict in taking the tools and technologies of this world; the tools and technologies which allow kids to create and explore, participatively as well as interactively, their virtual and fantasy realities, and asking them to use these same tools for school purposes?

What ARE these school purposes?

Are current school purposes, dictated as they are by the curriculum, related to any sort of reality - cyberreality, the reality of children’s lives now, or the realities of their futures?

Can we divorce the reality of their lives, and the purpose of schooling, from the realities of the last few weeks?

Conventional wisdom has it that kids have seen so much screen-mediated violence and horror that they must have become de-sensitised. Why else would a group of teens, including a 12 year old, think that it was OK to murder a man for a pizza?

There’s another perspective. For our children the world is McLuhan’s Global Village. It’s a technologically linked community where the images and accents that populate our screens and children’s heads are international-USA-standard. For children, far more than us, geographic boundaries and distance have little relevance. I think many NZ children have felt the 11 September disaster almost as keenly as any American child. This is their world. The games that they play with so much engagement but that, deep down, they knew to be games, are suddenly reality. That is terrifying - fiction has become non-fiction, fantasy has become reality. It’s for real; people blow up buildings and Mums and Dads go to work and don’t come home. It’s the ultimate betrayal of childhood security and it’s on CNN 24 hours a day.

I’ve spent a professional lifetime trying to address what we now call information literacy. In recent years I’ve become more strident in my attempts to say to teachers that information literacy has little to do with finding information for ‘topics’ on the WWW or anywhere else, but a LOT to do with teaching students to sift and synthesise vast quantities of multi-media information with discrimination, to think through the issues raised by the information and take responsibility for applying knowledge with intelligence and integrity.

I still believe in this, but maybe there’s a more immediately urgent need for a crusade to help children mediate the multiple and complex realities of their lives, to help them recognise that complex realities give rise to complex problems which require complex and compassionate responses. Why is it that I have been thinking this week of Susan Cooper’s book ’The Dark is Rising’? It’s an old (in publishing terms) but immensely powerful account of the confrontation of good and evil. Maybe the message is a lot simpler. There are more good than evil people in the world. Good people are everywhere. They have different colour skins, different religions, different language, different accents, different clothes, but deep down they are good, not evil, and good people are inheriting the technology as well as the earth.

I don’t know how schools begin to help build the sophisticated, complex, values-driven, deeply experienced reality-filters that children need. My response, from my CNN-free generation is to turn off TV and web coverage, and re-read Susan Cooper. An eye for an eye is no way to confront naked evil.