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My sweet digital natives, their information spaces, and trying to Yoda

In the past few days I realized my assumptions about my seniors were a little off.  And I made an important discovery about widgets.

Here’s what I learned as we set up senior blogs and discussed a few new information strategies.

1. I kinda figured they were bloggers. The only blogs they’ve kept so far were the ones we asked them to keep over the last couple of years–for lit circles, in the perspective of historical or literary characters, to discuss issues.  They liked the idea of blogging their process.
2. I kinda figured they read blogs. Only one could actually explain what an RSS feed was.  Not one had thought to set up feeds for research. Once we actually made them try, students loved setting up Google Reader and using Technorati as a blog search tool.  They saw blogs that would be useful.  They also saw blogs that would be fun to read.
3. They were even pretty impressed with the possibilities that interlibrary loan and our state’s netlibrary e-book collection presented.  (Pretty traditional, but these systems have morphed into very kid-friendly, visual treasure chests.)
4. I thought they knew Google.  They did too.  But, in fact they had little knowledge of what existed under "more"and little experience with some of the cool features hidden in Google’s advanced screen–for instance, searching PDF and .doc files for long documents, reports, online books, etc.

But here’s my most fascinating discovery. . . Students were amazed that they could customize their Google interface (iGoogle) to make it a personal information space.  This was the most popular activity of the week and I know it was sticky!  They were doing it all day long and came back in the mornings with more enhancements. They changed themes, added dictionaries and thesauri and wikipedia and newsfeeds, and to-do lists, and calendars, and yes, sudoku and some virtual fish. 

All through their school careers we’ve suggested they organize their notebooks and backpacks, that they keep an agenda and maintain to-do-lists. This time it was all fun. It was somehow personal. The gratification was immediate.

I want more widgets.  I want widgets or gadgets that lead learners to more information sources–the fun, the serious, the light, the scholarly.

I believe we need to widgetize all our information sources ala iGoogle and PageFlakes.  We need to do far more work helping students create their own personally important and attractive information spaces to support their work as learners.

David Loertscher is doing some fascinating work in this arena.  We need to listen to him and we need these capabilities right now.  Are any software folks listening?

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Slightly unrelated other conclusions . . .

It’s been so much fun making discoveries along with learners.  My seniors know how to do things.  Maybe they’re natives.  Maybe I’m an immigrant (Mark Prensky).  But these natives till need their Yodas with their funny accents.  They don’t yet know how to use their lightsabers with their fullest powers. 

Guide them, I want to. 

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is the teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School, a technology writer, and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

Comments

  1. Tracy P. says:

    Great post, Joyce! I’m about to start an inquiry project on natural resources with a grade 5 class, and I’ve convinced the teacher to work with me to have them blog the process. I also want to have them set up iGoogle pages with some RSS feeds related to their topics. Obviously it will be a little more basic than what you can do with your senior high students, but I’m excited to see how it goes. Any tips you could offer for teachers of younger students?

  2. Nancy Everhart says:

    One of my grad students was telling me about their library program called “Pimp my Homepage” – a workshop whereby patrons customized their Google Homepage. I’m not sure how well received the term “pimp” would be in a school setting, however the term has taken on a different connotation these days due to the MTV series.

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