Making sense of David Warlick’s Keynote at CUEBC

On Friday I had the pleasure of being in the same building as David Warlick.  I was present for his CUEBC keynote and follow up unconference discussion.  He made some very interesting points.  He told great stories.  He made me think.  What follows is my attempt to mash up my notes from his keynote with my tweets from the unconference presentation and a couple other resources that I stumbled upon yesterday.  My hope is to find some transition points to guide me from his big ideas to practical applications in my classroom.

Introduction Notes

He started the keynote by sharing something that he had learned that day (can’t actually remember what that was) in order to illustrate that the the 21st Century Teacher must be a master learner.  They need to be comfortable saying “I don’t know – how do you think we could go about finding the answer to that question?”  In the unconference session someone made an interesting observation about how this was much easier for an experienced, confident teacher to do.  I think this is valid and raises the question: how should teacher training be structured so as to graduate teachers that are comfortable saying “I don’t know?”

He went on to state that “21st Century Education will be defined by it’s lack of limits.”  That we are now teaching in an information abundance and the interesting question is “What are the pedagogies of an information abundant learning environment?” An environment where there is no ceiling and where the environment empowers accomplishment.

For the rest of the keynote he unpacked what he thought were the main characteristics of “The Native Information Experience” with an eye to ‘hacking’ this experience for classroom use.

The Native Information Experience Is Responsive

He showed a great video of a children’s book that becomes interactive once an iPod Touch is inserted into it (I wish I could find it again Thanks to Casey the video is found and posted  here) an example of how today the experience responds to the student.  As a result the student can now develop a relationship with content.  The reason students are engaged by blogging is because it is responsive (if done properly).

He suggested that being connected to information is like part of the DNA of kids today.  They don’t say goodbye to their friends or stop a conversation because they carry them in their pockets; like alien tentacles reaching out.  When they enter the classroom we cut the tentacles off.

He also posed a couple thought provoking questions: How much time do we have to figure out how to channel curriculum through those tentacles?  Can learning really happen when anyone is this hyper-connected.

The Native Information Experience Is Fueled by Questions

Search Engines answer 150 million questions an hour.  Where did we go for answers Before Google?  We didn’t.  Google is turning us into an question asking culture.

He showed us an example of a teacher assignment where the students were given questions to guide them through the thinking experience (something I am guilty of doing); the teacher was trying to “question proof” the assignment so nothing was left out. He suggested that maybe what we should do is leave things out and have students question themselves into the content. (difficult with deadlines and curriculum)

In a web 2.0 conversation you are forced to ask questions about the answers that you find. Textbooks don’t encourage questions.

I liked this quote enough to tweet it out.  I think it holds some truth and is important.  Where it falls down in my classroom is that my students are trying to live in two worlds, the world of textbooks where you can believe everything written down and are tested on it, and the world of the internet which should encourage them to ask questions about validity, bias and the source of information, but more often than not is treated like a textbook.

The Native Information Experience Provokes Conversation

This characteristic follows from the quote above.

There was some time spent discussing situations where students wanted to learn grammar and writing skills because they came to realize that these would make them better communicators online and help them participate in conversations they found meaningful.

We also heard about Darren Kuropatwa’s use of blogs in his Math classroom.  At the start of the year each class starts out with a blank blog.  Each day one student is asked to put their notes on the blog and put the name of next note taker at bottom of the post.  The year starts out with the students just putting notes on the blog, but quickly becomes more interactive.  The students bring in outside resources; the note taker can mention in notes that they don’t get it and other students will fill in the gaps.

Students invest themselves in the experiences because it has value; it Inspires Personal Investment, another characteristic of the Native Information Experience.

During the unconference session I realised that most of my meaningful learning happens during conversations online as opposed to fact finding online.  We spend a lot of our time thinking about helping our students become better fact finders, but not much time thinking about the skills they need to become better at conversations.   I came across this blog post called Digital Literacies for Writing in Social Media that I thought had some good ideas for other skills/habits we should be considering.  I was also intrigued by something David Warlick said during the unconference session:


Teaching the new literacy skills is ‘easy’, but getting students to use these new skills habitually is hard.

So, I’m wondering how to get students to engage in learning conversations because they want to, not just because I am making them.

Finally, in children’s ‘Native  Information Experiences they succeed by getting it wrong.  As a result David Warlick suggested that in their Native Information Experience learning is Guided by Carefully Made Mistakes.

He asked the interesting questions “Can we be playful enough to give ourselves permission to get it wrong?” and “Can formal learning be more playful?”  He demonstrated a cool new search tool called Doodlebuzz that as far as I could tell had no practical application but was very cool and a good example of something that existed to satisfy our need to play.  The question he left us with was:

Might we allow some “distraction”.  Can we harness “distraction” for learning?


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