The internet as a learning tool

By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher – High School

In July this year, I had the distinct privilege of attending the Orientation to Adolescent Studies at Hershey Montessori School, in Ohio, USA. One of the discussions that came up in several different contexts, and which feels particularly relevant at the moment, was the role the Internet plays in the adolescent Montessori learning environment. Should we regard the internet as a tool, much like any other that we are helping adolescents learn to use?

Since I categorise the internet as a tool, I am drawn to make comparisons with the tools we use for woodworking. In the hard technology workshop, we identify tools that are appropriate for students to learn to use, such as the belt sander and others that have inherent risks so great, that we can’t justify making them available to students yet, like the table saw.  It may be appropriate for students to assist a teacher working with the table saw, to observe how it is used, but not to have access to it themselves.

Also, generally the tools that we use in the workshop have a built-in “control of error”, that is to say, in their very function, they focus our attention to the job at hand and let us know if we have used them correctly or not. A student can see pretty quickly if they have sanded a piece of wood properly, or if they have gone too far.  The internet doesn’t really function in this way. When students pull up search results on Google, for example, it can be much harder to know if they have really found what they need.

In her book From Childhood to Adolescence, Maria Montessori identifies, ‘two needs of the adolescent: protection during the time of the difficult physical transition, and an understanding of the society which they are about to enter to play their part as an adult.’

As educators and as parents, it is our responsibility to balance these needs. Through the internet, students have access to a much wider spectrum of humanity than they have ever had before. They can communicate with people all over the world, and learn from experts practising in every field of human endeavour. However, much (perhaps even the majority) of the content adolescents have access to on the internet, reflects a distorted view of society, dominated by advertising and inappropriate adult content.

So as we prepare an educational environment for our students, we have to consider how tools like the internet should be used and whether or not they can even be considered appropriate for our environment.

Either way, it falls to us to help ākonga learn how to evaluate the information that they find. Undoubtedly, the internet is one of the most powerful tools we have ever had access to, but as the old adage goes – with great power comes great responsibility.

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