You May Be A Tool Of The Old Education Paradigm

Still using the tools of the past in your library instruction? Spending perhaps a tad too much time lecturing to students? Perhaps wowing them with PowerPoint slides as a warm up to your point and click search demos? Well, you may be a tool of the educational past as well. At least that’s according to Marc Prensky, who in a recent column takes educators to task for ignoring the changing educational paradigm. In an essay titled “Changing Paradigms” that is found on the final page of the latest issue (July-August 2007) of Educational Technology, Prensky claims that teachers still don’t get it because instead of adapting new technology and new ways of teaching with it they persist in using the tools of the past. What are some of the tools of the past? Oh, you know, encyclopedias, multiplication tables, spelling rules and libraries. Wait a minute. Did he just say “libraries”?

My first reaction is that Prensky (who mostly addresses k-12 educators) hasn’t used or visited an academic library recently. If he had he would know that academic libraries at all levels are leveraging technology in nearly every way possible to connect end users with information in seamless ways and to adapt to their study and learning behaviors. Admittedly we are not quite there yet. But I’d hardly equate today’s library with long division. Despite being mildly annoyed with Prensky’s categorization of the library with the tools of the past, I do like the gist of his essay. In a nutshell, our pedagogy can get in the way of the 21st century learner.

So how do you adjust your teaching to new learning styles? Prensky suggests what not to do. Don’t spew facts, explanations, reasonings and tool-based approaches. Instead take advantage of the Twenty-first century learner’s desire to solve interesting problems, work in a group and share what they learn with others. In fact, our library technology may indeed fit well with the new educational paradigm in which learners:

Find information you think is worthwhile anywhere you can. Share it as early and often as possible. Verify it from multiple sources. use the tools in your pocket. Search for meaning through discussion.

If you are willing to experiment you may put some of this to the test in your next instruction session. Put students into groups, give them a problem to work on, let them use whatever tools they want (or perhaps assign each group a tool – anything from search engines to library databases), let them interact and share across groups, let them use their cell phones to call friends for help. It sounds risky and threatening just to write about it let alone actually do it, but I like a Nicholas Negroponte quote used in the essay. “Learning comes from passion not discipline”. If we can communicate one thing to get students passionate about the library, that’s likely to have a far more powerful impact on their future interest in using the library and its resources than the repetitious spewing of scattered facts and rules about searching online databases.

So I’d urge Prensky to reconsider the library as one of the tools of the past, because it may not be the library but the librarian who is the tool of the old education paradigm. We need to morph, as he says, “into the role of challenger, observer, guide, and coach to the students.” Are you ready to change your educational paradigm?

7 thoughts on “You May Be A Tool Of The Old Education Paradigm”

  1. Mr. Prensky is repeating some phrases that seem to be the mantra nowadays. Morphing and paradigms are also fashionable words. I suggest an excellent analysis by Zygmunt Bauman titled “Education in Liquid Modernity” where one can get the understanding of modern education, particularly the concept of “tertiary learning”, beyond the elementary level of tools.

  2. Changing the way teachers teach in there classroom isn’t as easy as 123. Asking current teachers who may not even have available resources to use the Internet in their classroom on a wide scale is still not everywhere. Some schools are so bogged down by No Child Left Behind that they are up to their necks in paperwork. Changing schools is not going to be easy but I suggest one of the best places to start would be to work with Universities and getting pre-service training in the “NEW” ways of teaching. Plus to say that the library is a tool of the past rather than suggesting of modifying the current system seems to be a bit drastic. It is always easier to say get rid of the old and start fresh but in the real world that doesn’t always happen because you have to make adjustments and concede various changes along the way. I agree we need to look at the way we teach but its implementation needs to be addressed.

  3. Actually, I’d defend libraries, multiplication tables, and spelling rules as essential skills. When I taught a few years ago, I was dismayed by how many of the high-schoolers couldn’t do even simple math, estimate an answer, or recognize whether Spell-Check had destroyed the meaning of a sentence by guessing wrong about a word they’d misspelled.

  4. Steven, you cannot defend libraries if you cannot defend encyclopedias, multiplication tables, and spelling rules. Besides, whether tools are old or new should not matter, as long as they can help educators achieve goals.
    What matters is that educators should not confuse tools with goals.

  5. I just looked a Prensky’s website. He’s all about self promotion. It looks as though he is promoting gaming and computers as learning tools in order to sell his own games and books. We continue to see these self promoters, push empty theories in order for them to boost their egos or their pocket books. Where’s the science?

    While I believe it’s good to look at how technology can enhance the classroom, as a former poster mentioned. It’s not the tool that matters; it’s whether the kids are learning
    I wouldn’t trust his theories with any kids.

  6. Looks like some folks are not necessarily ready for the new educational paradigm. Sure, you can’t throw out all the old methods just because Prensky says we are encountering a new era of learners. But I think it might be worthwhile to occasionally experiment with his methods. Oh, and Prensky is frequently criticized by other educators for his radical views – but he also has a huge following among other educators. BTW, someone found a link to the article – on Prensky’s own site:

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