Forget homo zappïens - digital natives still need teaching

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Myth busting time.

  • Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.

Don´t kill the messenger. According to P. A. Kirschner and P. D. Bruyckere (in Teach. Teach. Educ.67, 135–142; 2017) , there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital.  The “homo zappïens” is a myth, just as the Yeti is.

It turns out that the youngsters today, although digitally active, still need teaching to become digitally literate : in using technology to support their learning they seldom go beyond a passive consumption of information(e.g. Wikipedia, downloading lecture notes or reading their social media feed). Students today indeed use a large quantity and variety of technologies for communication, learning, staying connected with their friends and engaging with the world around them, but they are using them primarily for personal empowerment and entertainment.

The non-existence of digital natives is definitely not the ‘reason’ why students today are disinterested at and even ‘alienated’ by school. This lack of interest and alienation may be the case, but the causes stem from quite different things such as the fact that diminished concentration and the loss of the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli may be attributed to constant task switching between different devices.

Which brings me to my second point.

  1. Learners cannot multitask; they task-switch, which negatively impacts learning.

Remember those pesky teachers who insisted you cannot do two things at once? They are actually right.

The same article presents evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning.

What students are indeed good at , is switch quickly and apparently seamlessly from one activity to another. The key word here is ‘apparently’:

When task-switching, a person first shifts the goal and thus makes a ‘decision’ to divert attention away from the task being carried out to another task...It has been broadly shown that rapid switching behaviour, when compared to carrying out tasks serially, leads to poorer learning results in students and poorer performance of the tasks being carried out.

Moreover, those who many considered “skilled”, or the heavy multitaskers who think can listen to class, and be on Snapchat, and have meaningful conversations, actually perform worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely because they are less able to filter out interference from irrelevant cues.

Even adults are very poor at this, and this actually impairs their productivity greatly. Multi-tasking is  allegedly worse for your brain then smoking marijuana...

Why does all this matter?

  1. Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.

Did you ever hear someone say that teachers of these digital natives are digital immigrants who, through their lack of digital knowledge and skills, impede the natives' learning?

Well, they are wrong. To succeed, edtech must be at the service of teaching, not the other way around.  Education software is not making teaching obsolete, but makes the craft of a teacher even more important.

This does not mean, of course, that technology in the classroom is a bad idea, rather that the task of the teacher in a classroom where the presence of tablets and laptop can be disturbing is to know when and where technology should be present. A good idea for the digitally active  students is allowing a backchannel or a chatroom where they can go back to read instructions, share links, get back on track and reinforce task setting. Another one is to add off-screen learning extensions that students love, as for example in Zinc, where teachers often use the application during the first 10-15 minutes of class to get students into “study mode,” especially after lunch, and then direct the kids to read the rest of the text offline.

Teachers hold the key to both embracing and letting go of technological advances, and learning how to achieve focus should be included in the curriculum. The naturally occurring (i.e., not learned) acquisition of the metacognitive skills necessary for a multitude of learning strategies is simply not there, and needs to be taught, just like other relevant skills.

Mihaela is knowledge curator and co-founder of Newschool, embracing methods and developing tools that help students and teachers develop skills for the 21 st century.  

Seal of Excellence

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After strenuous paperwork, we just received good and welcome news from the EU: Our application for Horizon 2020 has been awarded the so-called Seal Of Excellence. The seal is a new arrangement for projects that satisfy all demands needed in order to be approved. As the European Union has allocated all its funds in the project, the recognition in practice serves as a recommendation for national funding. newSchool have received assurance of funding from Innovation Norway.  

LeanLearn and newschool at Austin Tech For Schools Summit

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We had two busy days at EdSurge´s Austin Tech for Schools Summit.  EdTech Leaders day (September 30th) was largely attended by superintendents, directors of curriculum & instruction, and instructional technology officers. All Educators day (October 1st) was largely attended by teachers, site administrators, and site support staff. We had conversations with more than 50 educators and decision makers after testing LeanLearn, and they all provided us with very valuable feedback, some of which lead us in new directions.


We received very positive product reviews although our product is still in beta version. These EdTech leaders gave us a clear message that we also need to open up for students being able to upload their own content. We also got many request for using this tool for Project Work. So after Austin we got a confirmation on the following:

  1. We need a better interface to edit content in LeanLearn (that is why its still in beta)
  2. We will create a new version of the tool that is targeting Group and project work TeamLearn

So thank you EdSurge and all teachers & leaders providing us with all this valuable feedback that speeds up our learning dramatically. We also look forward to launching several new pilots in the Austin area next year.


More chaos in education, please!

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Chaos, complexity and failing forward is something start-ups do. Order, structure and properly measured learning is what serious educational institutions stand for. Are they really so contradictory?

I recently spent three days in Århus, Denmark, at the Kaospilot`s master class for educators, where we were challenged, thrown into chaos, exposed to our own and others´ feelings, and made to think about it. And only AFTER all that, were we given tools to navigate complexity together, and tools to design programs that are based on experiential and team learning.

In the start-up world, serial entrepreneurs are considered the best entrepreneurs. They learn from experience, and they learn from their teams. They learn from their mistakes, they are forced to act with as little information as possible (how little is enough?), or to frenetically search for information when they realize they do not know. And boy, do they remember those lessons! Although many entrepreneurs have mentors, teams are also a core factor in succeeding, teams that are aligned, have commitment to each other and to a clear direction. And where there is a very high degree of trust between the members.

Schools are in a way like start-ups. Their product, “educated children”, have to be prepared for the big unknown out there, with the proper tools to navigate it. Today`s teachers an students alike know very little about tomorrow`s workplaces, they have to act with as little information as possible (how little is enough?). Yet too often students are served “content” or “relevant knowledge“on a plate and do not actively search for information they do not know. Do they really remember those lessons?

Schools could be organized more like start-ups. Chaos, complexity and failing forward do not exactly describe a schools`culture, although it can be very constructive. Research shows that the best predictor for performance in education is the belief “Yes I can” or “Yes I know”. That belief comes from experiencing equally what I can and what I cannot do , what I know and what I don´t, then finding solutions to that, guided by a mentor and helped by my team of peers. This belief that I know own level, my personal best, and I am constantly challenged on that, gives a fantastic feeling of empowerment and drives students forward.

Our vision for schools is more learning from experience and less learning from books/ebooks. More learning with tools then from tools. More learning from team/peers, and less teaching. More “start-up” schools , and proper tools to navigate that constructive chaos.

Please let me know what you think at

newschool at KnowHow 2016

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Fredrik travelled south on 10 February, eager to learn from a range of interesting sessions at the EdTech conference KnowHow 2016 in Stavanger. The conference centers around learning technology and is aimed specifically at local schools in the greater Stavanger region. There were plenty of interesting lectures, one of them with Maurice de Hond, founder of the Steve Jobs School in the Netherlands. The school's concept is spreading, and they are expecting to establish 40 such educational institutions around the world in a year.

Another highly interesting and amusing feature was the so-called couch talk where representatives from Google, Apple and Microsoft sat down for an informal and friendly chat about the future in EdTech.

You can find all the lectures from the conference here.

Oslo EdTech Cluster welcomes newschool

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Mihaela is where it happens: newschool is now present at Oslo EdTech Cluster. The cluster works to develop, commercialize and export Norwegian learning technologies. They work with business development, growth and internationalization of Norwegian EdTech companies, and cooperate with market participants and research environments to develop world class Norwegian EdTech companies.Oslo EdTech aims to ensure interaction and added value between member companies, R&D groups and the market, focusing on strengthening the competitiveness of the cluster members and contributing to a stronger Norwegian EdTech industry.