Friday, 6 March 2015

Authentic Learning for the Digital Generation by Angela McFarlane

Angela MacFarlane covers a wide territory in this book, both chronologically and thematically. She draws upon research from the early 1990s through to the present and finds value in all of these. She looks at an extensive breadth of educational technology themes, from esafety to data representation. The journey swoops in to look in detail at some of these themes but with others takes a much higher level view of the landscape. For example she describes the intricacies of how teachers need to be most careful in developing activities that involve the representation of data and yet describes broad issues around user-generated content in learning.
I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the online manufacturing of a debate about skills versus knowledge intensely tedious. McFarlane dispatches these spurious disagreements with aplomb; “Given that it is impossible to work with information in a vacuum, you have to have some content to work with, and content knowledge without the understanding to use it effectively is pretty pointless, the skills vs. knowledge dichotomy breaks down on even cursory examination”.
I like as well her warnings against digital utopianism and very practical insights, for example when looking at the widespread ownership of devices amongst school age learners she cautions that “it is dangerous to assume this physical access equates to deep and meaningful use of these technologies”.

A useful book brimming with wise, experienced and penetrating insights into every one of the themes she examines, it isn’t an argument or a coherent narrative but is worthwhile nevertheless. For example her insistence in many places that it isn’t the technology but how it is used that matters should be at the forefront of the mind of anyone beginning a procurement of technology. There are gaps, for example her chapter on games neglects the highly fruitful new study of gamification. There is one error, Becta was disbanded in 2011 not 2007 as she states. These are minor quibbles, for someone wanting to have a good understanding of key issues relating to technology in education this is great starting point.
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