They did it today. They took over. My students, that is.
I was happily minding my own business, teaching them the day’s lesson when suddenly they took over the learning. It was down-right revolutionary. And I couldn’t have been more ecstatic about it.
I’ve been dabbling in the realm of digital learning for an article I’m writing. Today I thought I’d try an experiment. What if I actually USE what I’m writing about in MY class? I teach second year English majors at a local technical college. The class is Conversational English. I have the freedom to use whatever curriculum I choose. So today it was a geography lesson: The World is Flat. My students had never heard of Thomas Friedman. They had heard of Christopher Columbus, so when I wrote those words on the board they seemed a bit confused. But in our last class we examined the English terms for concepts they are quite familiar with – “streaming audio/video,” “social networking,” “chatting,” and “online gaming”. I also introduced ideas about expanding their learning beyond their classroom or text book. But I could tell the lesson was barely brushing the surface of their sponge-like minds. So today I blew their minds away. I hope I did, anyway.
I introduced the concept of the flat world in much the way Friedman does in his introduction, in fact paraphrasing him. We discussed ideas like “collaboration” and “out-sourcing”. They know the ideas, just not the English terminology, and they only know it conceptually, not in practice. China is a collective society, but it is woefully ignorant of the practice of collaboration.
Near the end of the first half of class, when we were about to break, I asked the class who had Web access on their mobile phones. 95% of the class raised their hands. I told them to use Google in English, and search for whatever they wanted. Some needed help. I guided – “What do you do in your spare time?” Blank look. “What do you enjoy doing when you are not studying?” A hesitant, “Watch movies,” uttered the shy student. “Great! What kind of movies?” She nearly squeaked, “Funny movies.” “Okay,” I said, “search for ‘comedy movies’.”
Others needed no help at all. One searched for the history of basketball. Another for the newly announced host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Those who had no phone crouched close to their friends. Groups of students whispered what they found. I approached two students who weren’t searching. No phone. I handed them mine, and walked away. A few minutes later, I came back to see what they were looking for. “Who is Thomas Friedman?” was in the search field. “Yes!” I shouted, surprising them. “That’s it!” I had written his name next to the title of the book. They wanted to know who he was. And without any prompting from me, they whipped the learning right out of my hands, and took over. And they worked straight through their break time.
The timid girl who watched movies found a list of the 100 funniest movies of all time. Now maybe she’ll watch them in English, and practice her listening comprehension and pronunciation. Later, they had to come up with 5 examples of how the world is flat. They had to create ideas. And they did a fantastic job. Creative thinking has not been a strong suit among these students, but they were suddenly coming up with examples of how the world is flat:
Changing our appearance…Girls in China want blue eyes, because of Western influence. They can see how they will look online with blue eyes, just by uploading a picture.
Surgeries that were impossible in China before because of lack of expertise can be done using telemedicine.
Automobiles are manufactured using parts created from every corner of the globe.
In the introduction of the book, Friedman mentions Dalian. It is the outsourcing center of China as Bangalore is for India. He interviews the former mayor of Dalian, Xia Deren. The mayor talks of China’s human resource capital – the largest number of university graduates in the world:
“Though in general our English is not as competent as that of the Indian people, we have a bigger population, [so] we can pick out the most intelligent students who can speak the best English.”
These are my students, who are sitting in my class room, and taking over the world by taking over their own learning! That’s the kind of coup I can support.