Recently the Collins English Dictionary selected the 2015 word of the year. The word was “binge watching” a word that reflects our drastically changing lifestyles. It basically means "to watch a large number of television programmes (especially all the shows from one series) in succession.” Lexicographers noticed that its usage was up 200% on 2014, hence awarding it the “word of the year” title. Binge watching may be exactly what’s wrong with education.
Binge watching is not just about consuming endless hours of Netflix movies one after another, it's about a more fundamental issue - our obsession with content consumption. It’s an obsession that extends beyond our living-rooms and into the very hallowed sanctums of our classrooms. It’s an obsession fuelled by student habits and misguided teachers. It’s an obsession that is resulting in what might be termed “binge watching classrooms”.
CONSUMING MORE THAN SLEEPING
There are many exciting opportunities for us to use technology in our classrooms, however we are increasingly seeing reports that technology is not improving learning. What’s going wrong? Is it technology that is at fault or is it how we are using technology that is the problem? I believe part of the answer to this important question may be found in the 2015 word of the year - binge watching.
Common Sense Media’s recent report on media use by tweens and teens reveals that teens are now spending more hours consuming media than sleeping! The average American teen is spending about nine hours a day on entertainment media alone. However we must be careful of sensationalism that paints all media usage with a single brushstroke.
All too often, when seeing children on their devices, parents respond with, “You’re wasting your time”. Yet, while there may be times when this is true, these devices are not like the single function devices that parents grew up with. In the past if a child was spending lots of time in front of the TV it was obvious they were doing only one thing - watching TV. However modern devices allow for a wide range of activities from consumption to conversation to creation. Even sitting in front of a TV a child today could be doing anything from having a conversation, playing a game, watching a movie or creating a world in Minecraft.
So what are children doing with this 9 hours of their day? In support of the word of the year, more time is being spent on “Passive Consumption” than on any of single activity. As the chart below shows, on average children are spending about 40% of their media time on “passive consumption” as compared to only 3% of their time on content creation.
The Passive Classroom
If this was all that was happening it might be easy to dismiss this as, “well it’s their time, let them do what they want.” However it's when this trend is picked up by teachers and implemented in classrooms that we have cause for concern, and that is exactly what we are seeing.
Schools are making a headlong rush to digitize the classroom, yet this mostly implies digital consumption. The media is awash with stories about tablets being rolled out or smartboards being installed or YouTubed classrooms. All of these technologies have great potential, yet at their core they are all about consumption. They do little to move the learner from a passive consumer to an active engager. Reading ebooks on a tablet, or watching YouTube videos, while digital, is all about content consumption. Yet this is where many schools are spending their energy and resources. The result is fuelling our students “binge watching”, passive consumption diet, and resulting in more and more studies suggesting that technology is not working in the classroom.
However, maybe it’s not the technology that is not working, but our use of the technology. There is no doubt that our education system needs a revolution - but a revolution is not doing what we have always done and just silicon coating it. A revolution, with revolutionary devices that we are now equipped with, needs new approaches to teaching and learning. One based not on passivity but activity.
The Activated Classroom
What is exciting is that the seeds for an activated classroom approach are already found in our children’s current media habits - all we need to do is harness them. Common Sense Media’s research shows that while children are only spending 3% of their time creating content, they are nonetheless choosing to spend some of their “down time” actively creating. In addition to this teens are also spending 25% of their time in “interactive consumption” and 26% communicating. Relooking at teens and tweens use of media we see that they both spend about 55% of their time on active online tasks. It is these activities that hold promise for the future of our classrooms.
With more than than half children's time spent on active media engagement we need our teachers to encourage this activated style of learning in their classrooms. Where teaching and learning is not about consuming prepackaged content but engaging in active content curation. Where teaching and learning is not about passive content consumption but exciting opportunities for conversation around content. Where teaching and learning is not about watching recorded video lesson but learning through creating their own videos.
This is the call to an activated classroom. If we are to escape the portend of 2015’s word of the year, the Binge Watching Classroom, we will need to, as teachers, step forward and become education activists!
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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