How Much Hand Holding?

On Friday, I attended the ECVA Conference at Virginia Tech along with Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl.  Two delightful companions with whom to do a road trip – we left Richmond at 5:30am and got back at supper time.

At the conference, we had the opportunity to hear two excellent keynoters.  Michael Wesch talked first about the new literacies required for teaching in the 21st Century.  Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins-Bell then followed with a discussion about implementing technologies in ways that solve pedagogical issues.

Much of what Wesch covered was similar to a talk he did at the University of Manitoba last June.  He maintains that the old literacy involved reading and writing, but that what needs to be taught today involves reading and writing on the web.  Students today have access to unlimited information, so can find the typical questions one asks on multiple choice tests.  It is more important to teach critical thinking with that information than the information itself.

Wesch made several points that I had not really reflected on before.  First, he noted that the technologies he was using (wikis, YouTube, NetVibes, etc.) did not exist five years ago, so our students have not “grown up” using them.  They have learned them during the same time period that he had.  This goes a long way in my mind to putting a nail in the Digital Native / Digital Immigrant discussion.  I would also suggest that while students today may not have necessarily grown up with the tools in use now, they did grow up with a comfort level to technology that their teachers still do not have in many cases.

The second point he made led to this blog post.  He maintained that he does not need to teach reading and writing to students in college – it is assumed they have these literacies when they come into his class.  In a like vein, he does not see it as his place to teach the use of tools in the Read/Write web to students – it should be a given that students either know how to use the tools or know how to figure out how to use the tools.


I am currently teaching a graduate course in Instructional Uses of the Internet to a bright group of K-12 teachers.  During the first two weeks, we have been focusing on Web 2.0.  Many of my students – some of whom have been teaching twenty-plus years – are frustrated and overwhelmed by the myriad of tools and options afforded by the web.  Several have stated that I as the instructor am not doing enough to “teach” – I am not providing detailed step-by-step processes for each thing I am asking them to do, such as build a homepage in Blackboard, set up accounts in delicious, wikispaces, and Google Reader.  In some ways, I am attempting to model the “messy” way in which learning occurs today on the web, but I am seeing some pushback by these colleagues (and I do think of my students as colleagues).  So I have been struggling with this concept of just how much hand-holding I should be doing with graduate students in a Web 2.0 environment.  From Wesch’s viewpoint, it sounds like the answer is “none.”

I might agree with 18-year-olds, but these K-12 teachers are in many ways just like the university faculty with whom I work.  As a faculty developer, I am mindful that my job in many ways is to act as a problem solver for them.  They do not have the same motivations to “play” on the web that I have as an early adopter.  They have become successful as faculty and researchers using an older paradigm, and are only now slowly awakening to the need for a new one – if they are awakening at all.  Part of this awakening is driven by their students and a visceral feeling that these students know more about technology than they do.  I think Michael adequately addresses this (they do not necessarily – this is stereotyping and students enter with wide diversity of capabilities), and some recent blog posts at NetGen Nonsense back up the growing realization that students are not as tech savvy as we give them credit for being.  But the fact remains that most faculty, and many in my class, remain fearful of trying out these new technologies.

This shifted me into thinking about what Intellagirl said in her talk.  She stated that the process she used in introducing new technologies was to ensure that she had talked through three aspects with her students – The Promise – The Tool – and The Bargain.  She promised that the technology would help create bonds and connections, and also add fun to the course (which I agree is a good thing!).  She tied the use of the tool to the learning outcomes.  She recognized and helped students realize the learning curves associated with technologies and tools.  So, she ensured the students had the time to become familiar with the tool.  She wanted students not to escape into the tool, but to use it as an extension of their learning.  She helped students understand that they left footprints in the web when they interacted with the tool and each other…and she wanted them comfortable with that.  Finally, part of the bargain was that she was going to use technologies to help achieve learning ends, and not because it was just cool to use some tool.

I like Sarah’s approach.  I will discuss this with my class and see where I can assist their learning curve and their comfort level.  I have a wide range of students, so I suspect that I can co-opt some of them into helping others grow in their abilities to effectively use the opportunities afforded by the web.

I would be interested in your thoughts on the balance between hand holding and expectations of self-learning.

{Photo Credits: Steve Rhodes, batega}

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

4 thoughts on “How Much Hand Holding?

  1. To help teachers and students, we must understand how students think. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

  2. Sorry but I disagree with Michael Wesch if he is implying that they don’t need assistance in learning to use these tools. It would be nice if they didn’t but my experience has been that students need “hand holding” and scaffolding of learning how to use these tools based on their level of technical skills.

    I’ve seen numerous 18 years totally struggle with this; if you don’t provide the necessary support and structure it’s not going to happen. Just because they are comfortable and confident with using MySpace, Facebook or Online gaming doesn’t necessarily mean these skills transfer across to being able to be self directed in learning how to use these tools.

    I like Sarah’s approach and definitely I would be highlighting the messy aspect but how much you gain from the connections.

    My thoughts is you have to stage their learning with some teaching of how to use the tools; ensure that you have included mechanisms for them to easy connect with each other; and provide ongoing encouragement.

    I’m working with some preservice teachers here. I really starting to enjoy watching them starting to grow and gain from what they are learning in terms of using these tools.

  3. I must confess I am little bit uncomfortable with Mr. Wesch’s view of self learning. Many of us who never grew up with technologies are babes when it comes to using these tools. It would like a “baptism of fire” if someone were to demand of us to use web.2.0 tools to accomplish some task on the web, especially if that task will be graded.

    I am one those who believe to an extent that not everything must be taught to students. In my view, students should take the initiative to learn a few things in harmony with what is being taught by the instructor. However, it should not be left entirely up to the student to paddle himself around. He might be tossed about like a ship without a rudder.

    I would prefer to blend Sarah’s views with a minute portion of Mr. Wesch’s view. I believe students must be helped when necessary and also to teach the child to use technologies to achieve learning ends.

    My humble opinion;
    Keven Jones

  4. It is important to know our students first before applying any kind of technique. Not all of them have the same needs or ways of learning,some may like to explore by themselves and others may need to be guided step by step through the process. Using the web is now a need for our new generations and for teachers as well, so lets use it effectively to reach all of them.
    Maybe both of the strategies above described are correct,but they need to be applied according to the students’ needs. We could even used both of them to try to reach our students. I think as teachers we have that common sense that allow us to know what works for us and for our students.
    Let’s open our minds and hearts and enjoy the net and all the resources it offers. Which way? Know your students and find the right way!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *