To enter in brazilian universities, students must go through the admission process known as Vestibular. This admission process is composed by exams (usually two) with levels of difficulty and dispute compatible to the quality of the University. In Brazil, public universities such as University of São Paulo and private institutions such as Pontifícia Universidade Católica are examples of important qualified universities in the country. To be part of these universities (specially those which are not payed), many of students enroll in specialized prep-courses known as Cursinhos or in expensive schools that more than educate (or instead of), will train them to perform better in these exams.
This process of admissions can be very much questioned both because it leads schools to teach how to be successful in the Vestibular instead of enrolling in an educative enterprise and also because it creates an unfair competition between those who study in expensive and well prepared schools versus those who have no other choice but to go to weak schools. Although that seems to be a cornerstone in brazilian education, it does not seem that many things are going to change right now.
Yesterday, the Estado de São Paulo newspaper published an article about how students are using the Internet to create collaborative activities in order to get better prepared for the Vestibular. According to the article, brazilian students are themselves using tools such as instant messaging, e-mail, and Orkut (the Google Networking Tool that is most popular here, such as Facebook in North America) to create clusters of students who intend to reach a common goal and be better prepared for the exam. In these clusters, the students usually discuss previous exams, exercises they could not solve and debate polemic topics.
My point here is to call attention to how technology is actually empowering these students to find their own paths, their own way to practice whatever they are learning in their own ways. Yochai Benkler, in The Wealth of Networks, states that “as collaboration among […] individuals becomes more common, the idea of doing things that require cooperation with others becomes much more attainable […]”. I believe this article exemplifies how the possibility of cooperating actually enhances learning experiences for students who engage in such type of activity. From this perspective, I might say that these students are actually managing to use the ubiquotous computing in a positive way, instead of having it only as a distracter. On the other hand, I received a comment to my last post, in which a colleague reffered to the fact that these digital natives seem to be, actually, consuming all these tools instead of producing something meaningful, they would be just absorbing information.

All these ideas point me to some questions (and I would love to see some of your thoughts about it):
– Till what extent are we supposed to let digital natives themselves and only handle technology, without any instruction?
– In educational activities, are we supposed to instruct Digital Natives explaining how they should use this or that tool, or should we just provide the tools and let the students themselves figure out how it works best for them?
– What is this movement we can already observe in which the digital natives do not seem to care much about retaining information, once everything can be reached online? What happens with the teacher who now needs to deal with the “teacher as a facilitator” idea?

The mentioned article is an example of how brazilian digital natives have found a path to deal with an specific necessity of them whithin a certain context. Do you see anything like this in your context?

– André Valle

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