Sunday, 4 November 2007

First-hand experience?

There are some interesting chapters in the Educase e-book 'Educating the Net Generation.' I enjoyed the chapter 'Planning for neomillenial learning styles', despite not knowing what 'neomillenial' means and being rather sceptical about the whole notion of 'learning styles'. Although the chapter is focused on the implications for higher education, there are important issues to note in relation to early childhood education. For example, the author of the chapter, Chris Dede, suggests that 'Mediated immersion creates distributed learning communities, which have different strengths and limits than location-bound learning communities confined to classroom settings and centered on the teacher and archival materials'. Education in the early years has focused almost exclusively on the off-line bounded setting and there needs to be consideration of the potential role that mediated online environments can have. This creates an interesting tension in relation to one of the cornerstones of early years education, the value of 'first hand experience'. I was once told by an early years/ literacy consultant (who will remain nameless!) that my work with young children using laptops to create animated films was not good early years practice because it wasn't 'first-hand experience'. I would like to contest the notion that first-hand experiences in the off-line world should be privileged in early years education; this position needs re-thinking in the digital age. Of course, children often experience online what are in fact representations of the off-line world, so in that sense they are second, not first-hand, but this does not mean that those experiences are intrinsically of less value to children's social, emotional, cognitive and linguistic development, nor does it mean that they are less 'real' experiences, in my view.

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