Findings from module 1 presented for 300 upper secondary school teachers

Thursday 15. August 2013 I (Thomas Arnesen) presented some main findings from the student survey to 300 upper secondary school teachers, their headmasters, and the headmasters’ superior from the county administration.

Instead of framing students’ perception of the relationship between their new media practices and education in the discourse of digital native versus digital immigrants, I talked about cybernetic styles of thought and the ‘making up’ – and the promotion of – a particular prospective pedagogic digital identity for learning in the 21st century. In their book, Learning identities in the digital age, Loveless & Williamson argue that education is now “the subject of a “cybernetic” mode of thought: a contemporary style of thinking about society and identity that is saturated with metaphors of networks, flexibility, interactivity, and connectedness”. They also try to identify how learning identities have been promoted, and position young people as networked learners, equipped for political, economic and cultural participation in the digital age. I stressed the notions of networked individualism and the lifelong ‘project of the self’ as characteristic of this line of thought and showed how these ideals are reflected in official and unofficial discourses about education. In order for such a prospective pedagogic identity to succeed, however, the ideas contained in it and the kind of thinking it enables must be picked up and acted upon by students themselves, and thus become amenable for empirical research.

Findings from our survey of 3400 teens in the Nordic countries suggest that the promotion of a ‘cybernetic’ pedagogic identity has not made a substantial impact on how the young perceive of themselves as learners and thus how they perceive of the relationship between new media and education. The vast majority of students say that school is a meaningful place for them to be. Only roughly 10 percent could be said to have a more ‘cybernetic’ student identity in the sense that they see school as less important than the net for their future, and that they can learn what they need from the net. However, I argued that elements from this ‘cybernetic’ mode of thinking could be found in official discourses and policies or strategies for education, particularly in the promotion of keeping the net open to students everywhere, all the time. I ascribed this policy to a belief in the benefits of connectivism, a so-called theory of learning which in my view is closely aligned with a ‘cybernetic’ mode of thought.

Furthermore, I argued that we see some negative consequences of this line of thinking as it meets the realities of Norwegian and Swedish upper secondary schools and the students’ schooled’ identities. On the one hand, students are presented with and see/accept the continued relevance of schooling for their lives and futures, while on the other they are met with concrete expressions of a ‘cybernetic’ mode of thinking in the constant freedom they have to choose leisure instead of work in class and at home. As many as 40% of the Norwegian students in our survey report that they have problems concentrating on school work when using PC at home or at school, and that their digital habits and activities hinder them from achieving their academic ambitions. For some of these students, then, open access creates a conflict between the logic of school and that of the net. Our findings suggest that this kind of conflict has a strong negative impact on students ability to work efficiently towards long term objectives, often seen as a prerequisite for succeeding at school.

The presentation was well received by the teachers and headmasters, and concrete plans were made to follow up the findings from the survey at classroom and school level. The stage is thereby set for module 4!