Below are excerpts from an interview I conducted with Marc Prensky on July 13, 2005 for an article to be published in the September issue of Technology & Learning magazine. Marc speaks and writes about educating today's student. He is also a designer of game-based learning software. His books include Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw-Hill, 2001), and the forthcoming Don't Bother Me Mom, I'm Learning. His articles include the classic "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants", "Engage Me or Enrage Me", and "What Can You Learn From a Cell Phone? - Almost Anything!" Marc presents a future of education that I find exciting and challenging. I'll be discussing other excerpts from the interview in upcoming posts. Your comments and reactions are welcome.
How is today's student different from the one 25 years ago?
The main difference, for me, is that they've had digital technology surrounding them from the time they were infants. Wherever they get it, even if they don't have a computer in their house, they get it. They get it through the TV, the stores and game machines, GameBoys, it's everywhere - on their cell phones. They understand that they live in a digital world and that digital world has many things that it affords them that the previous world didn't.
How does that make them different as far as school goes?
Well, for one thing, as my friend Mark Anderson says, they all realize they can go far beyond what their teachers know. It means that in terms of content they're not limited anymore by their teachers. They can access the web; they can access the world.
How have schools attempted to adapt to this?
The schools have been having a struggle. The main thing that's happening is we're seeing a bifurcation. We're seeing school and we're seeing something called after-school. School has stayed with, for the most part, what I call the legacy curriculum. It's not that that stuff isn't important; it's really half of what kids need today. The other half, which is the future curriculum, everything from nanotechnology to bioethics whatever it may be that is happening in the future, this is all happening by the kids teaching themselves. It's happening by searching the web. It's happening by playing games. I think of this generation as training themselves for life in the 21st century because they realize in school they're not getting any training or help with that.
So what do schools need to do?
Part of what they need to do is learn from the best. You look at a place like Lemon Grove School District in San Diego. They have taken grant money and they have developed one to one lap tops for the kids that the kids can throw around the room because they're so well padded. They have a network that serves not only the schools, but the homes, and the fire department and police department as well. There are people who are doing things and I think the most important thing that schools could do is to really try to adapt best practices... Basically what goes on in schools is they ignore the kids' out of school life. If they were able to find more ways to bring the out-of school life (what's really at the heart of kids' interests) into the schools and the curriculum they have to teach, then hopefully they would succeed with that.
There's one other thing - talk to the kids. One of the things that's happening in school that's frustrating like hell to the kids is that we're giving no value to everything that they learn out of school. So kids come in and they say well you don't care about me why should I give a damn about you and what you're trying to teach me because you don't care about anything that I know.
What do you think the consequences will be if schools don't adapt to the "digital student"?
We have a strange situation in that kids go to school not primarily to learn. Kids go to school primarily so their parents can work. What's going to happen is there's going to be huge pressure from the students (and it's already happening). They'll want to drop out, or they'll act out, or they'll do whatever they do, and yet they have to be there. So something is going to have to give at some point, unless we make that time worthwhile. If time that they spend in school becomes wasted time in their day, the only time that's wasted from their perspective, we'll see what we do see which is a lot of kids doing badly not because they aren't smart or they couldn't do it, but because they are not given the opportunity to be in an environment where they could do it.
Was that different 20 years ago? Did kids see more value and relevancy in school?
Twenty years ago kids did not understand engagement the way kids do today. Intellectually, life was boring. School was the one place where there might be something interesting intellectually. But now with the internet, kids aren't bound to this stuff: they download music, they download movies, they list things, they do extreme sports, they follow all sorts of things, they make machinima, they make games. Every kid at some level has something really engaging him. And so they understand what that means and I think that's one big difference. So they're looking now to find engagement in school.