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    Jordan Shapiro Talks Education in 21st Century Digital World

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    Jordan Shapiro, PhD, is a world-renowned leader on global policy and education. He's a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, where he coordinates research and advocacy around digital technology, child development, and family life.

    Sputnik: In the annotation to your book “The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World”, you called this a must-read parenting guide for raising 21st-century, digitally-driven kids. Could you describe in more detail this so-called new childhood?

    Jordan Shapiro: Yeah, I certainly can. I don’t know the degree to which I even have to prove that there’s such a thing; life has changed so much and it’s changed so much for so many people in so many parts of the world. In the obvious ways, just by the fact that we have so much digital technology available –we have social media, we have video games, we have Twitter, and we have WhatsApp and all these ways of communicating that didn’t use to exist. That’s one hand. Even in a larger way, the world is connected in dramatically different ways; the fact that yesterday I was in Philadelphia, the US, and right now I’m talking to you in Moscow that wasn’t possible 20 years ago. This sort of infrastructure, travel infrastructure and economic infrastructure are interdependent and that creates a drastically different experience for kids. My own children will play online with a microphone around their ear and their headphones, and they’re talking to kids all over the world. I barely knew where Bosnia was when I was a kid, and my kids are talking to people in Bosnia all day long. This is a very different kind of childhood. And what you have to imagine is that when that happens when you grow up with that entirely different kind of context and different kinds of play and socialization, you’re going to learn to think about the world in a very different way than I think about the world. I don’t know what it is because I didn’t grow up that way but I can be sure that it’s different. Think about how these kids receive information; for almost all of human history people received information in very linear stories – things sort of had their beginnings, middles and ends. Now they are very different; your regular way of interacting with information is you open something and then you hyperlink endlessly until you get bored. There’s no end and there’s no middle, you’re just always constantly moving between things. I think that is a huge shift in how we think and I think many adults don’t even understand how to start to imagine what that’s like. When a conversation can go on for three days, it doesn’t end. Everyone thinks that Twitter and WhatsApp are terrible because people say that a two-second interaction isn’t a real conversation; but that conversation might go on for months. And I don’t think that grown-ups quite conceive of that.

    Sputnik: What are the key drivers that help to raise digitally-driven kids properly?

    Jordan Shapiro: I don’t know there’s such a thing as raising kids properly. What I would say is that we need to really understand that this is a different way of being in the world. What we often think about when we think about education, parenting or kids is we sort of think there’s the right ways by which we the mean old ways and then there are these technologies that are in the way of the right ways. The real truth is those technologies aren’t going anywhere. So, the real question is how do we integrate tools and technology into a lived experience in a way that maintains the ethics, the values, the compassion and all the wisdom we know about how to live in the world with other people? How do you do that in an online environment, not just an online environment, but sort of a hybrid environment where half your life is lived online and half your life is lived offline?

    Sputnik: You are currently a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. In your view, what are the vectors of innovative learning?

    Jordan Shapiro: I’m not a big believer in innovative learning. I’m not sure  learning has changed. We might need to change how we teach, but people are human and we learn in certain ways. Humans are actually very good in learning; in general we learn very quickly. When we get to the question of innovative teaching, I think we often talk about innovative teaching, innovative pedagogy or innovative schools, I think that people often ask that question in totally wrong ways. I think they often say that we need to figure out a better way to teach as if the subject matter stays the same; but the whole point of school is to teach people how to use knowledge within a particular technological and economic context. You still need math but you don’t need to know how to use math the way that people 20 years ago used it, you need to know how to use it a different way; it’s not a question of just teaching that differently, it’s that the entire school system is different. It’s innovative in some ways but I get scared that when we say “innovative teaching” we think that we need a better way to teach math. We know how to teach math for 50 years ago, we’re great at it; we don’t know how to teach math to people that are living in today’s world.

    Sputnik: You are an adviser and strategist to the United States Air Force and Thomas Edison State University, helping to shape how to provide individuals with sophisticated 21st century critical thinking skills. What points of your research could be helpful for employers?

    Jordan Shapiro: My background is in philosophy and psychology. The real question is about how do you get people to see the world in the ways that will allow them to thrive in a very different world. We’re trained; almost everything that we do trains us to work with a particular set of technologies. When I say trained us to work I don’t just mean it in a job sense; we learn how to take cars or the metro, we learn how to do things – and all these things are technological things, they feed a certain kind of economy and a certain kind of political system and society all of which is changing. This means that we need to teach people to see and think in different ways, and to have a different kind of perspective on the world.

    My research is trying to understand what those ways are because we often sit there and go do these new ways of teaching create the kinds of test results that exist to test how good you were at using stuff for 20 years ago. This is one of the funny things in education technology – we’ve tested people with pen and paper and with computer and we discovered they did better with pen and paper; but that’s because you designed a test for pen and paper for 20 years ago, of course they’re going to do better.

    So we are often going hey they learn better but what are the things that we’re trying to teach them? Sometimes I’m doing research, sometimes I’m writing a book and I think about what I’m doing and I see that to such an extent I’m combining research and ideas from such a broad swath of the human experience because the Internet makes it possible for me to draw from so many sources at once and bring them together in interesting ways; but the skill becomes how to bring that together but not whether or not you know it.

    It doesn’t matter how much I know about the geography of Russia, it does matter whether or not I know the Russian literature that I could make some sense out of that geography; and I’m not going to find that on the Internet – I’m not going to find the ability to take the literature, look at the map and make sense of it. This sort of raw data that we used to make people memorize is available so clearly; but how do you use it? How do you make sense of it?

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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