“Our kids now need an education that is far more connected and real than in the past—an education that gives them not only knowledge, but also provides them with empowerment and agency. They need an education whose ends are not just to improve themselves, but rather to improve the world they live in.” – Marc Prensky
We have been having lots of conversations about student empowerment and agency at our school recently. While few doubt the need for a profound shift in vision and mindset in approaches to learning as the result of a transformed digital landscape, there is nevertheless a shared lack of clarity as to what this future will look like. In fact, the only thing that is clear when we think about providing students with greater agency over their learning is that this is something that pushes all of us out of our comfort zone.
While students are excited at the prospect of taking greater ownership of their learning, in many instances, they have not been fully equipped to do so. Students owning the learning is much more challenging than following a predictable path that is provided. Teachers wonder how they can best do this in ways that will ensure that learners are not short-changed as we transition to a new paradigm; in ways that will not overwhelm them as professionals who already give everything. Parents, including Board members, are rightly concerned about the systemic scale of the task and worry about how we can reconcile this new thinking with the need to secure a good college education for our students.
According to Marc Prensky, in his latest, thought-provoking work, our shared fears must be considered in the context of a new reality: today’s students are “globally empowered” unlike any other generation; accomplishment, not just learning, must be the new objective of a 21st century education. The fears associated with this new paradigm stem from an understanding that some of these new approaches will involve a fundamental entry into an unknown and untested era of education that some may resist as nothing more than experimentation. Prensky provides a compelling response to this fear:
“I understand your concerns, but we have to experiment and find a better way. Your kids live in a new world that is very different from the one our generation grew up in. Today’s young people are far more empowered than kids were in the past—they have enormous new capabilities that kids have never had before. We truly don’t yet know how to best educate these empowered kids in their new environment. But we do know that our current education—even with marginal improvements—is no longer working as it used to. So not to experiment to find better ways to educate these kids would be irresponsible. I’m sure you are all responsible parents—and I’m a responsible educator—so let’s get on with our experiments, because we are all in a new age.”
In order to provide students with the education that they need in order to be successful, autonomous learners and socially aware, digitally literate contributors to an increasingly global society, we must accept that we feel and acknowledge the disruption implicit in leaving our comfort zone. We must continuously ask ourselves if our responses to being in this zone of discomfort are an articulation of risk-taking to ensure we are committed to doing the very best for our students, or a defense of the comfort of what we have always known.
It’s time to leave the comfort zone together.
Marc Prensky, Education to Better Their World: Unleashing the Power of 21st-Century Kids. 2016.
Image credit @bryanMMathers via Visual Thinkery.