We are pleased to introduce you to David Warlick, one of the keynote speakers at eXtension’s 2010 Communities of Practice Workshop, held June 6-8. If you have not signed up to attend, you can do so now here.
Since 1995, Mr. Warlick has been the owner and principal consultant of The Landmark Project, a professional development and innovations firm in Raleigh North Carolina. During this time David has spoken at conferences and delivered workshops for educators throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, The Middle East, and South America. He has been an innovator and leader in the field of educational technology and a prolific programmer. His Citation Machine, receives more than a half-million page views a day.
We asked David a few questions about his experience as an educator and the role that technology plays. You can see the interview below:
Can you tell us about your background in education?
I graduated from Western Carolina University and started teaching in 1976, before there were desktop computers. I taught math, science, and social studies, but mostly social studies to 7th and 8th graders in a rural school in South Carolina. I witnessed my first desktop computer, a Radio Shack Model I, in 1981, and my school received 11 Radio Shake Model III computers later that year. With no software included in the deal, I started teaching myself how to program so that my students would be able to learn on with the machines. They included a game called Stock Baron, designed to help students infer meaning from historic events, and Trucker Geography, designed to help them learn the relative locations, economic importance, and how to spell the states of the United States.
In 1983, I became a computer resource teacher and then director of instructional technology for a rural school district in in North Carolina, and then moved to Raleigh, to work for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in 1990, assisting in the proliferation and integration of the information and communication technologies (ICT) throughout the state.
Leaving NCDPI in 1995, I have since worked as an independent consultant providing training, public speaking, and software development services. I’ve been published in numerous education-related journals, and have written three books on educational technology and contemporary literacy. My forth book should become available very soon, A Gardener’s Approach to Learning, about cultivating personal learning networks.
How is technology changing the way we learn?
I’m not sure that I can say that technology has changed the way that we learn. However, it has changed the environment of learning or the experiences and contexts of learning. I grew up in a small town, with limited access to content and ideas, yet a rich array of physical manipulatives (scrap lumber, boxes of junk, used nails, bolts, screws, etc.). Today, children are learning within a networked, digital, and info-abundant learning environment and an astounding array of virtual manipulatives that can often be created on-the-fly.
Because of these shifts in the information environment and the rapidly changing circumstances of our play, work, and learning, it has become necessary not only to redefine or expand what it means to be literate, but also to change its context. As the 3Rs expand, I think that it has become important that we treat literacy not only as the skill to read, but the skills involved in learning — that we might start talking about “learning literacy” rather than just “literacy.”
I’ll add one more thing about learning today, and that information and learning are at the heart of our children’s native experiences. Information and learning are their culture. One of our challenges today is to crack the code of that experience, to be able to describe and apply not their out-side-the-classroom information experiences, but the qualities of those experiences.
As educators, what are some things we need to think about to optimally reach our audience?
Four things come to mind. First, we need to understand and to become fluent in today’s prevailing information landscape, which is networked, digital, abundant, and remarkably participatory. This does not mean that we should be 100% expert or even 50%. It means that we are learning literate within a contemporary information environment.
Second, I think that we need to be engaged in our students’ conversations. There is much in their ‘native’ information experience that is compelling and will almost certainly be a part of their future. We need to be able to reflect on those experiences, and to integrate them into the conversations of formal learning.
For number three, I believe that we need to understand the qualities of our students outside-the-classroom experiences. As we try to make formal learning more relevant to our students, we need to start not with video games or social networks as a whole, but to deconstruct those experiences into smaller qualities, that are at the core of the experience.
Finally, I think that it is critical that educators start to include, as an absolutely essential and explicit part of the job, the practice of learning, that we should start to refer to ourselves as expert or master learners.
You talk about a new generation with ‘native’ information experience. What exactly does that mean? What does this mean for educators?
I’m not a neurologist, so I can’t speak to how their brains are wired, and I’m not an anthropologist, so I can’t map out the regions of their culture. However, I am almost sixty years old with 34 years in education, and I know that the world that our students interact in and with has changed, and that the information landscape that they call home, has undergone dramatic shifts — magical transformations.
As a result, the experiences that define them, individually and as groups, are dramatically different from the experiences that prepared me for my future. It’s the qualities of those experiences that I think can help us to craft learning experiences more relevant to their world and self views and also to their future.
What challenges do you see for “non-digital natives” who are trying to serve audiences in todays learning environments? What are the most common pitfalls that will create barriers to their success?
Marc Prensky’s 2001 article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, served to help us understand that there are distinct differences between our students and the students that we were. However, like many analogies that become part of the vocabulary of our professional conversations, there are many fallacies. For instance, the land that our students call home is not a destination. It is a constant journey. My son started out banging on the keyboard of an Apple IIe computer. Now he make videos with a computer that slides into his book case and with a camera he can carry in his shirt pocket. They have seen and adapted to amazing change, and our challenge is their challenge. We’re all living in times of rapid change, which is why I think that it has become so important that teachers become “master learners” rather than merely “learned masters.”
On a more practical note, there are challenges to our everyday endeavors to teach today’s students, within a new information environment, for an unpredictable future. We often lack the technology. We lack the time to study and reflect on the implications and practice. We are hampered by inflexible and sometimes less than relevant curricula. These are big problems that need some outside-the-box solutions.
Can you tell us more about the Landmark Project?
Just before I left the NC State Department of Public Instruction, I had built their web site, the first state department of education web site in the nation. In a time when the Internet was a wilderness to most educators, I saw it as a set of landmarks that would help them navigate this wilderness. This idea carried through and continues to be my goal, to help educators learn to navigate no only the Internet, but what has become a rapidly changing landscape of our work, learning, and play.