My chunk of the turkey is time.
When I joined Twitter, I lurked for months and months without tweeting a thing. When I finally did join the community as a good, earnest citizen, I started out slowly and picked up speed as I learned to negotiate the community's norms and embrace the valued practices of the space. Now, a year and a half later, I can communicate fairly clearly the spoken and tacit norms of the Twitterspace.
I did the same thing with Facebook, Wikipedia, and blogging--looking around for months before joining the community. By doing so, by taking the time to consider the space I was entering, I was able to reflect on others' practices before offering up my own. I read thousands of blogs before starting my own. I worked with friends to learn how to edit Wikipedia. And I was coerced by another friend to join Facebook; the rest was up to me.
I recently spent some time working with Scratch, a simple visual programming language designed for young learners. As the site explains,
Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.
I've designed exactly two projects in Scratch; the first was about a year ago, when a colleague spent the morning helping me work up a little thing I call Jimmy Eats World.
To play this project, click the green flag in the upper right.
I'm annoyed with myself that I didn't make the flying hippo actually disappear at the end of the project, and if I wanted to I could open up the program and make it so. Or I could turn the main sprite, the walking cat, into a hammerhead shark announcing my blog's url.
I could do that if I wanted to, because I am a highly resourceful independent learner who has the passion and the time to devote to projects like this. I find them personally and epistemologically meaningful--I feel enriched, and I feel that the time I devote to these kinds of projects makes me a better, more useful and proficient blogger and educational researcher.
Time, the friend of the highly resourceful learner, is the enemy of teaching. Time: There's never enough and even if there were, it couldn't be spent on tinkering. There's content to cover, and not just in the name of high stakes tests. A teacher's job--one made ever more challenging by the social revolution--is to equip learners with the knowledge, proficiencies, and dispositions that will suit them well for future learning. There comes a time when the teacher must say, It's time to stop with Scratch and start on something else.
Which is a deep shame, because it's the tinkering, the ability to immerse oneself in participatory media or a learning platform, that fosters a real fluency with the space.
This is a key feature of what it means to learn in new media: the choice to engage with certain tools, to join up with certain affinity spaces, beyond the time required by schools. Clay Shirky writes that the days are gone when we could expect to do things only for money; we're in an era when the greatest innovations emerge not for money but for love.
If learning in new media takes time, passion, and some combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, then on its surface school seems to run anathema to a new media education. In fact, it may be that engagement with participatory practices is exactly what schools need at a time when they are struggling to remain relevant to the real world needs, experiences, and expertises into which learners will ultimately emerge.