Post #2 – Growing Up Online

Someone on the Yalsa-bk listserv that I’m subscribed to sent a link to this Frontline episode called Growing Up Online. The whole program is interesting and relevant to our discussions on Web 2.0, Millennials and teaching technology.  The specific segment I want to talk about for this post, however, is the second segment: A Revolution in Classrooms and Social Life.

The piece is a profile of a high school that is working to embrace technology in order to engage students. There are two teachers featured in the piece and you can read the full interviews for each of the teachers here. In looking over the comments, I found many people (keep in mind, these are PBS watchers for the most part) who were objecting to the comment made by Steve Maher that we need to re-look at what constitutes cheating. Here’s another quote from Steve Maher that gets at my point on this issue:

“Remembering information isn’t as important; accessing it is important. And then, since there’s so much information out there, it’s judging the information that applies to your particular situation. What types of information do you need, and how can you trust it? How did you know what’s valid? …”

This has always been a major part of my beef with the current educational climate. Don’t tell kids what to think, teach them how to think. As a (future) library professional, I am very involved with the idea of information literacy.

Is it important to know that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066? No. (and yes, I found that in a brain crevice somewhere… (history geek=me)) It’s more important that a student knows where to find credible information when they need it.

Is it important to read Heart of Darkness or Catcher in the Rye or Jane Eyre or (insert name of “important” literary work here)? Maybe. But to me, it is more important that they be able to read, reflect and discuss a narrative coherently, even if that narrative comes from a graphic novel or a work of series fiction. Better still, let the student choose their own reading…

So is using Sparks Notes cheating? In the full interview, Steve Maher goes on to say that the best way to prevent cheating is for teachers to create authentic assessment tools. Don’t have the students write an essay on the causes of the Cold War. Have a debate in which half the students prove that the US started the Cold War and the other half proves that the Soviets started it.

Don’t give a multiple choice test on the themes in Othello. Have students recast the roles of Othello, Desdemona and Iago to reflect today’s values and social prejudices. How would the story be the same; how would it be different? (Othella and Desdemona, anyone?) You won’t get the answers to that from Sparks Notes.

This has turned into sort of a novel, so I’ll quit. But I’m interested to see what others think, especially those who are currently/hope to be in education.

Thanks for indulging me,




  1. walker1213 said,

    February 10, 2008 at 3:50 am

    History geeks unite. I also knew the Hastings thing since I am one of THOSE types – a person who has a lot of tidbits in her brain and thus performs extremely well on tests and frightens away her peers when she watches Jeopardy or plays Trivial Pursuit. But does knowing that make me smart? Does knowing specifics mean I can see the larger picture and ideas? Probably not.

    All the ideas you’ve got here are really great ideas for challenging students to really tackle the themes and problems of history, literature etc. What would really be interesting is how one could teach the sciences or math in a creative way? There seems to be much more wiggle room in the humanities and social sciences where sciences have to follow formulas and procedures.

    But um, yes it is totally important to read Jane Eyre because it is fabulous. Of course, I am biased! – Jamie

  2. Steve said,

    February 10, 2008 at 11:12 am

    It’s refreshing to know that there are some people actually reading the interviews that accompany the Frontline web site. The directors’ selective editing of the interview for the film served to send a different message than I intended, one that fit more neatly into their purpose for the film.

    The difficulty with this issue is that the public still believes that remembering a lot of facts is the equivalent of “smart”. Since we seem to believe that the Jeopardy champion is smarter than the thinker, our state curriculum and standardized tests reward the memorizers. The “smart” kids like that because it is easier to memorize than to think. So we are left fighting the legislators, test-writing companies, parents who want the best for their children and the kids themselves.

    As much as it makes absolute sense to us, it’s tough to convince anyone else that education should be “thinking-training” rather than “memorizing-training”.

  3. huntlaur said,

    February 11, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Hey, this reminds me of an article I blogged about that you should read if you haven’t yet ( I thought it sounded like they accused Steve Maher of being in favor of cheating in the video when they asked “Are you saying cheating is OK?”. It’s neat that he responded. I’ve noticed the issue of memorization vs. thinking has been coming up more frequently. It’s getting some attention… could be a revolution is on the way!

  4. jessica said,

    February 15, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    First off, I love the ideas for preventing cheating. What a great way to engage students in the material! If only all school could be such a stimulating environment. *heavy sigh…*
    Teaching students how to think seems so natural but when I think about my own education it sounds revolutionary. I mean, why would anyone need to know the date of the Battle of Hastings? If they needed the date, they should know how to find it, reliable sources to use, and be able to access the information in a timely fashion.-I think. For me, school was, for the most part, a series of memorizations. Reimagining school as an intellectual journey to train minds to engage in the material. Well, It’s a lovely thought.
    Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit were a couple games mentioned that use general knowledge and pop culture facts for their questions. When considering these ideas, Trivial Pursuit is a very fitting name for the game in which one is required merely to state a known fact.
    P.S.- very cool that Steve Maher commented.

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