Article Review #1

For the first article review, I selected John S. Brown’s “Growing up digital: How the Web changes work, education, and the ways people learn” (2002). I discovered this piece while perusing the reference section of George Seimen’s article on connectivism (2005).

I chose this topic for much the same reason that I chose this class. First, I’ve been out the position of classroom teacher for nearly five years now. Best practices in education change quickly and the technology behind the practices change even faster. In order to connect with kids and provide them the resources to succeed, teachers need to be current in their own understanding of child development as well as available and effective technology. Second, I have two young children preparing to enter the public school system. This article provides insightful perspectives regarding the ways in which young learners are expected to learn as well as the possible future horizon that guides current decision making.

The article begins by drawing parallels between early technology application, such as photographs and motion pictures, to our current understanding and relationship with the World Wide Web. This helped me activate prior knowledge on the topic and relate to the new topic within a context I understand. In this infancy stage, we’re just beginning to realize the full potential of the technology. A model doesn’t exist so we use new technology to accomplish the same old tasks, rather than redesigning the tasks based on new information and new resources.

The idea of leveraging learning was interesting to me. With a bachelors in Business, I understand this term well from a financial standpoint, but have never considered it in terms of learning. With the sheer volume of available information and the questionable sources confusing the facts, it is nearly impossible to stay current with everything we want or need to know. Type the word “leveraging” into Google and the definitions are as follows:
1. Use borrowed capital for an investment, expecting the profits made to be greater than the interest payable.
2. Use something to it’s maximum advantage.
Initially, I assumed the author was considering leverage in the sense of using something to it’s maximum advantage, such as senior citizens helping teachers (and themselves) by sharing stories and life lessons with children. As I continued to read, however, I got the impression he was getting at more. This lead to much reflection on social learning through the lens of leverage. Perhaps the first definition of leverage, the true business definition, is appropriate as well. Rather than spending a considerable amount of time learning the detailed in’s and out’s of a topic with the end goal of becoming an expert, it’s possible to borrow the ideas and opinions of others (capital) to build our own knowledge base (an investment), where profits (understanding and earning potential) is larger than the interest payable (time and energy of initial investment). The Return on Investment in this scenario is enormous, largely due to the vast quantity of information already organized, evaluated, or synthesized. My initial thought is that borrowing ideas, thoughts, or opinions of others is merely surface learning because you can’t truly understand those points of view without a grasp of the assumptions or underlying principles that form them. As I read the assigned and self-selected articles this week, however, it shocked me how quickly information changes and how frequently we need to unlearn and relearn something. Siemens (2005) study asserts the following: The half-life of knowledge, the time elapsed from when knowledge is first gained to when it is obsolete, is shrinking. Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and doubling every 18 months. (p.1). Based on this, perhaps leveraging knowledge is more practical and efficient in our modern world.

The author discusses the ways technology can cater to multiple intelligences, stating “as educators, we now have a chance to construct a medium that enables all young people to become engaged in their ideal way of learning (Brown, 2002, p.2). As part of my Classroom Research project last semester, I explored digital storytelling as a best practice in early education. My 4-year-old learned to create digital stories and express herself and her intelligence through scene selection, animation, music, photo, and other specialized options. I saw her express her ideas through art and music, which seem to be her preferred intelligence. Motivation and engagement were high, due in large part to the novelty of the technology and perceived privilege of being able to use it. I recognize, therefore, the potential for technology to help kids express their personal intelligences in various ways. I contest, however, that technology is necessary for this and the notion that because of technology we can “now” create ways for kids to express themselves through their preferred method. My daughter is in a Waldorf pre-school right now. She is building, dancing, beading, singing, and baking instead of being plugged into a computer. Is she not developing and showcasing her multiple intelligence in the natural world? Isn’t it the teacher then, more than the technology, that “construct a medium that enables all young people to become engaged in their ideal way of learning” (Brown, 2002, p.2)? I believe technology is a powerful tool in the teachers’ toolbox, but no substitute for informed, intentional, and meaningful instruction.

The final point that really stuck with me after this article is the idea of social learning, constructing knowledge within and because of a community of like-minded people. The author discusses two dimensions of knowledge – explicit and tactic. Explicit knowledge deals with ideas and concepts, while tactic knowledge applies to skills and doing. As a carpenter, I can certainly appreciate the value of learning by watching and participating directly in a project versus reading about the process. The author supports this, stating “a lot of our know-how or knowing comes into being through participating in our communities of practice” (Brown, 2002, p.5). By engaging in dialog and exchanges with these groups, we are leveraging our novice skills, abilities, and understandings to their full potential. We learn and share knowledge, refining and rethinking what we know. Brown (2002) states, in learning communities “no one person was the expert; the real expertise resided in the community mind (p.7). This leads to the final discussion about a learning ecology. An environment adaptive to change and rich with diversity of thoughts. It is precisely this melding of ideas, experience, cultural perspective, and diversity that create a interwoven and cross-pollinated perspective of knowledge around any topic or idea. Perhaps this means I need to change my definition of an expert from one who knows nearly everything about a topic or discipline, to one who knows where to look for the answers they seek. We don’t need to carry the entirety of the world’s information around in our head, we need to situate ourselves in a learning ecology and develop our know-where skills.

Siemens, G. (2005, January). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning. Retrieved from

Brown, J. S., (2002). Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn. United States Distance Learning Association. Retrieved on December 10, 2004, from

5 thoughts on “Article Review #1

  1. Hi Craig, It sounds like this was an interesting article and was really struck by your conclusion, “I believe technology is a powerful tool in the teachers’ toolbox, but no substitute for informed, intentional, and meaningful instruction.”

    I was reminded that ‘Technology doesn’t kill people, people kill people’ and appreciated how you defined technology as simply one tool among many, to be wielded intelligently and for specific purpose. Technology appears to be here to stay, so approaching its use with intention and meaning seem to me much wiser than simply saying that it is bad, or good, across the board.

    A few years ago at the college where I work, we would get a pretty regular stream of older people coming in asking about computer classes. These folks couldn’t really be helped by younger volunteers because of a language barrier. You see, you couldn’t tell them to ‘right click’ or ‘double click’. The didn’t know what that meant. They needed instruction from the basis that they were ‘technology learners as a second language’. This lack of language and experience was handicapping them in today’s technology laden world. It has been well over a year since I have had that conversation with anyone. Even my 87 year old step dad has mastered technology enough to join a few discussion groups and keep an electronic eye on the stock market. He can’t type, but he can surf. The pendulum has swung. It is now up to the aforementioned ‘intention and meaning’ to keep the focus on technology as a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

    I also appreciated your comment about the novelty and perceived privileged as a motivator for learning. I find myself using those a lot at home but had not stopped to put a name to it. I am going to have to think further on how to use those same tools as motivators for adults in an online class. But not now, the sun is shining and it is time to go outside.

    1. Kim,

      Nice comments. I have taught technology classes at the local OLLI (Osher Life Long Learning) chapter several times. In fact weekly even now. It is amazing, as you state, how far the greatest generation has come with modern information literacy. At the same time, it is amazing how many are left out. When I suffer basic tech problems at home or at work, and I solve them with some bit of obscure knowledge or tech-based-insight, I often marvel that anything works ever. What will the world be like in 40 or 50 years and will some members of our generation be equally as left out?

      I’ve had the idea that some kind of organization pairing service minded teens with seniors for tech assistance would be positive. But, I agree with you that there are growing language barriers.

      Enjoy the sun!


  2. Hi Craig,

    Nice review. Thanks for sharing.

    A couple of things jump out at me. This statement, “Best practices in education change quickly,” particularly caught my eye. Do fundamental best practices really change quickly?

    How are we as an organism innately adapted to learn and how do we as educators cater to those innate predispositions?

    Also, I too was caught by your statement about technology being a tool and no substitute for informed, intentional, and meaningful (can we call it quality?) instruction. Probably since mankind first picked up stick and stone there has been the discussion about tools being key to learning vs. just supplemental or facilitative. I fall more on your end of the spectrum. But, in your daughter’s example, the oven, the beads, etc… all of this learning is supported with technology. Certainly the Greeks did fairly well with wine and olives – but the modern capacity for information access and expression is greater than ever. How do we as educators cope with that nearly overwhelming capacity?

    Lastly, I enjoyed your thoughts about learning ecology and the idea of the hive-mind and know-where. How do these ideas scale across disciplines? I think that if we’re talking Shakespeare, there’s something to these concepts. But what happens at the edges of our understanding? Take for instance something like cancer research? Or musical composition?

    Nice review and many interesting ruminations.


  3. Craig – I too have read this article, but it has been so long that I do not remember when. Your thoughts on it were very interesting, especially given your background in business.

    Your points about leverage and borrowed knowledge struck out to me, as this is largely what academia at the university level is about. So often we’re writing papers that are amalgamated from thirty or forty authors’ information. At this point I have no idea how many papers I’ve written in my life – well over a hundred – and sometimes I feel as though I lose myself in the thoughts of others. We’re taught to write by “having a conversation” with other authors and experts, but this mode of writing sometimes makes you feel like it’s not much of a conversation. I guess that’s how it is though – we’re expected to have such a broad range of knowledge that there isn’t time to dive deep, so you’ve gotta go broad. Writing like that certainly is an accomplishment, but sometimes at the end of thirty pages I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much.

    I agree with your points about technology. I love technology. I’ve had internet access for almost my entire life. I remember first getting on the internet in 1st grade. I have a smartphone with a self-made theme, two computers, and can work my way through almost any piece of technology. I’ve grown up in this world and am comfortable in it. I don’t like hearing people tell me that iPads and SmartBoards are going to radically change education or alter the way that we think. That, if true, doesn’t sound like a good thing. I’ve been in classrooms with iPad carts and the like and, while cool, they’re just tools. They’re not going to replace teachers. I hate hearing that because I think it really devalues children – here kids, people don’t matter, here’s an app. It frustrates me to no end to see people treat tools like replacements for people. It happens in all walks of life, of course, but I guess we just feel especially strong about it since this is about our walk of life.

  4. Weird for me to hear you’ve been on the internet almost all your life. I was in college when I first started sending email (early 90’s). I remember when someone first showed me a web browser and I thought – “neat but I can’t imagine it will ever amount to much.” Clever.

    Your assertions that iPads and the like are just tools caught me. If these are “just tools” what is good teaching? Does technology (iPads, smartphones, computers, the internet, etc..) play a role?

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