After nearly five weeks of the class writings, it’s time I collected some of your myths and superstitions into one place. In no particular order of importance here are five of the myths and superstitions you’ve written about since the beginning of the semester. I’m not singling anybody out. Many of these have been pronounced by more than one student on more than one occasion.
Myth 1. “The internet is dangerous.”
I left a comment tonight about this and we’ve talked about it before but it’s worth repeating. The internet is not any where near as dangerous as your kids’ ride home on the school bus. There is an immense amount of mis-information being passed around out there. Most of it has to do with the danger of sexual solicitation. One of the early studies reported that one in five kids between 10 and 17 were sexually solicited online. What was NOT revealed in the rush to publication was that over 3/4s of the solitications came from classmates they knew from school.
Yes, kids talk about sex. The internet is the modern equivalent of “out behind the barn.” We need to be as aware of the dangers, risks, and liabilities of the internet today as our parents were in another time. We also need to be aware that the incidence of problem is very low and that in trying to control it and protect children, we may, in fact, be doing more harm than good. Protecting kids “at any cost” means something very, very bad when protection becomes prison.
Here’s a little statistic to consider while you’re pondering the dangers of online solicitation. While 1 in 5 may have been solicited online by the time they’re 17, nine out of ten high school senior girls have been sexually solicited, inappropriately touched, or otherwise assaulted by a classmate while at school. Which is more dangerous? MySpace or Prom Night?
Myth 2. “My students are visual learners.”
No, they’re not. I know you believe it. I know you’ve been taught to pander to superstitious belief. Some of you even categorize yourself one way or another. Sorry. Superstition. There is no credible evidence that a) learning styles exist or b) catering to them effects learning outcomes. On the contrary, some work done by Gavriel Solomon in the 70’s indicates that presenting content in a mode that is perceived by the student to be difficult (that is, not in their favored or familiar mode) results in greater effort on the part of the student and that the greater effort actually does produce improved results.
According to Solomon’s work, if you really think you have visual learners, then don’t give them pictures if you want them to learn something. Make them read it in a book.
Myth 3. “Boys are better at … “
This one came up early in the semester and I produced the refutation. There has been some more gender-learning research done just lately that also debunks the myth. The problem is that the UK studies that are often cited as justification for this are actually valid studies on gender outcomes but the studies themselves show that the differences in educational outcomes are based on differences on the way teachers treat boys and girls. This one isn’t so much myth or superstition as self-fulfilling prophecy.
When you only teach math to boys, and only let girls do literature, you shouldn’t be surprised when the boys do better in math and the girls do better in reading. Ashamed, maybe, but not surprised.
Myth 4. “I’m too old to learn…”
Adults have this funny idea that they should know everything. Anything they don’t know, they’re “too old to learn.” The fastest growing segment of internet adoption according to a Pew study is the population over 55. You are not too old to learn. You just need to get over it. You maybe impatient. I know I am. But you’re not too old. You don’t have to work any harder than anybody else. What you need to allow yourself to do is be a novice and learn. Remember my personal motto:
“Age and treachery will beat youth and speed every time.”
Myth 5. “Online students have to be more self-directed”
This may be the least ‘mythical’ of the five, but it’s still not true. It is true that most online students have a liability that classroom students don’t have. Novice teachers. The majority of online courses are dreadful. It’s not the teachers’ fault. The majority of online teachers have no training, skill, or experience in the use of online tools. They are given a “hammer” in the form of Blackboard or WebCT and told that everything is a nail. It’s no wonder they do so badly.
If online students need to be more self-directed than classroom based students, then it’s to counter the ineptitude of the teachers.
The reality is that any self-directed, motivated student will outperform anybody who isn’t. It does’t matter what the environment is. What matters is the student. When we start comparing students, let’s keep in mind that if a student needs an extraordinary skill to do well in a class, then it’s not the student body that’s the problem. It’s the class. As teachers, you know this, so don’t fall into the novice error of thinking that it’s different online.