November 20, 2023
When I was growing up, in the nineties, schools had computer labs: rooms tricked out with candy-colored machines where teachers sent us weekly to learn how to use computers. We played Oregon Trail — which taught a little history and a lot of eye-hand-mouse coordination — and drilled on Typing Tutor — which modeled hand-keyboard placement and measured Words Per Minute. Computer Lab was fun — and actually useful. Even as kids, we understood these were skills that we would use in school and real life.
Today’s students are digital natives; they no longer need Computer Labs. In fact, Gen-Z seems to need the opposite. What if, instead of Computer Labs, schools had Conversation Labs? Imagine: screen-free spaces, furnished with tables and chairs, where students are taught how to talk — and actually listen — to each other.
Creating Conversation Labs would require a phase shift in how we think about discussion in schools. Traditionally, teachers use discussion as a means to an end — a learning activity that achieves content objectives, like untangling the events leading up to a world war or tracking character growth through a novel. But in today’s world, discussion skills need to be a learning objective. Conversation Labs…