The Permanent Laboratory

The Permanent Laboratory

Thoughts about how children and social educators could be creative thinkers in a global context

How do we as social educators prepare ourselves and the children for the future? In the Erasmus-project Mini-makers this question is part of the discussions and activities ( The attempt is to make a curriculum that mirrors the discussions and gives possible pathways to reflect upon this question.

Digital Natives

The term Digital Natives seems to indicate that children and young people know everything that is to be known about the use of digital media because they have grown up with them in their everyday life and it even seems to be a question of generations. The term was popularized among others by Marc Prensky and is part of an argument, where he talks about the difference between students and teachers (Prensky 2001). The students are part of a generation, that are used to digital media from their childhood and the teachers who are digital immigrants that have learned to use digital media later in their life. The teachers do not understand the children they are supposed to teach and their use of digital media.

Digital natives is a difficult term in several regards. First of all it is difficult to simply make it a question of generations. Such a point of view ignores the context in which any given group of people uses or encounters any given digital media, technology or narrative. Instead of assuming that somebody are digital natives and others are not, then one should instead ask what a group of people actually use a technology for and how they do it. Such an approach makes it possible to try to understand and use whatever knowledge and abilities there already exists and compensate for what might be lacking. Any teacher or social educator has to act as an anthropologist and analyze the social and cultural situation, children and young people are in when they operate using their devices in kindergarten, at school or at home.

The same goes for the teacher and the pedagogical methods she or he uses. It might be that the individual teacher or social educator is be both a digital native and a digital immigrant depending on the technology or narrative in question, but she or he as to adapt any new possibility to the teaching and at the very same time adapt the teaching to new changes in society including developments in technology and storytelling.

What the future holds

The term digital natives is also difficult looking at the future. When talking about technologies and digital media the only constant seems to be the word change. New technologies like Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality are emerging. Global communication through different social media on mobile phones or tablets is increasingly a real possibility. Narratives are told in a transmedial way across platforms, where one can interact and even possibly add to the stories. Robots and other autonomous systems are becoming part of and at the same time probably changing work, education and citizenship in ways we might not yet predict. Coding is so much more than programming, it is also a way of telling and communicating.

Technology, narratives and societal challenges intersect. Robots are the obvious example. They not only require, that we learn to program them. They also require, we talk about how work and education might change and in the long run we have to talk about what technologies we want to develop and for what purpose. It also requires we look at the way robots are pictured and understood in fiction and how we want to portray them in new short videos or images and posted online.

Internet of Things is a term, where digital technology moves away from the being centered around screens towards objects that communicate with each other without necessarily including people. The internet is in a sense turning into being a waste system entangling the digital and analogue, so it is impossible to separate the two, in principle covering more and more of this globe for us to use in ways we find meaningfull. Robots and Artificial intelligence are part of this waste and emerging system and so we also have to find out how to interact with these systems.

It is simply not possible to focus on a fixed number of skills, that lasts. It is simply not possible to imagine a future, where children or social educators in advance know what they need to know or do and then stick to it. Nobody are or can be digital natives, but we all are constantly digital immigrants, who need to find out how to use the possibilities. The point is not that we need to be victims in this situation, but that we can be and become the ones who decide a given use of technologies and narratives.  We can find new ways of using the technologies and narratives and in principle become the ones, who constant and permanently construct the very tools, we need to understand and live, the lives we want to live and not leave it to companies or politicians alone.

None of us are only digital natives or digital immigrants. We are possibly both at the same time as we might draw on hitherto experiences using technologies and digital media when we have to deal with new technologies and digital media, we need to find a use for. The kindergarten, the school, the university in whatever form, they might take in the future, might be permanent laboratories, where children, social educators, researchers and others examine and invent. A way to do this will be to leave space for a pedagogy where the question and the experiment is central and not the already given answer or an already given narrative and technology.

Mediaplaying the world

Digital natives as a term do have another problem as well.  When focusing on whether somebody knows all there is to know about technology it shadows the question whether children and young people might have other competences that could be important encountering an unknown future. The term Mediaplay or mediaplaying is one such approach to establishing a pedagogy, where the focus is on the ability to ask questions (Rönnberg 1983). The term originates from research in kindergartens in Sweden, where children were using characters, situations and sentences from TV in their roleplay. They were not only copying, what they had seen or heard, but improvising on basis of it in their play culture. During the recent years the term also included the use of technology and not only narratives. Mediaplay was seen as an activity that children did while playing being it with inspiration from TV or with technologies or other sources. It expressed a certain ability, children can activate while encountering the world. They repeat formulas, that they can improvise upon and in principle develop new formulas to use while playing. Digital media is in that sense only one more tool. The new and emerging technologies are the same.

Mediaplay also became part of a pedagogy, where the emphasis was on leaving space and time for self-organised play inside pedagogical settings in ongoing exchange with activities, where the social educator took an active part. The social educator forms experimenting communities, where both parties at the core of the community ask questions, play and experiment. Ways of playing and experimenting is exchanged between the children´s own play culture and the experimenting community to mutual benefit and inspiration.

So the central question in a kindergarten is to look at what the children actually do when playing and when playing with media – and what they do not do. One has to look at situations, where children themselves organize what they do and how they do it. When they actually repeat and change cultural expressions one can support them in doing this and enhance it to a level, where the social educator and the children together construct new uses of both technologies and narratives.

Creative Thinkers

Prensky´s real challenge to education goes beyond the question whether teachers are merely digital immigrants or not. Education has difficulties preparing children for the future (Prensky 2016). He actually calls for a way of thinking education where children are empowered attempting to find solutions to real world problems in the present. He talks about a shift: From educating individuals so that they can someday better their world, to actually bettering their world as their education. (Prensky, 6:2016). Dealing with digital technologies can be seen as such an attempt. Asking the question what technologies we want and for what purpose can be seen as such an attempt. The answers to the questions are new uses of digital media. Mitchell Resnick also calls for a new education, which he calls Lifelong Kindergarten (Resnick 2017). He describes the way children in a kindergarten experiment as a Creative Learning Spiral, where they …learn to develop their own ideas, try them out, experiment with alternatives, get input from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences (Resnick 12-13:2017). Education should find ways to develop children to be creative thinkers so they can deal with life in a rapidly changing world. Resnick even argues that school should be more like kindergarten and even describes how students at MIT Media Lab, where he works, learn through the creative learning spiral. As such even a university should be more like a kindergarten.

Cultures of creativity

If we add David Gauntlet & Bo Stjerne Thomsen to the equation one can even talk about communication across time and space and include the permanent laboratory here. The term Cultures of creativity (Gauntlett & Stjerne Thomsen 2013) covers an understanding of culture where the center of a culture is meaning making and creativity and the encounter of cultures are based on the same.

The question is no longer if we are digital natives but if we are able to find new ways to use, change and develop technologies we need and stories we can use to understand and discuss our world and our values. We are all digital natives and digital immigrants at the same time but we are all first and foremost digital global and democratic citizens. We do have the possibility to form a global democracy producing, constructing and using all systems available to exchange and develop common creative cultures where we might find answers to the challenges we face as one world. We might have fun playing and discussing the life we want to live together. Are the social educators up for this expanding the pedagogical space not only into constant experiments but also out on the vaste internet and its many vibrating networks?


Gauntlet, D. & Stjerne Thomsen, B. (2013). Cultures of Creativity: LEGO Foundation. Localised 08.02.2018 at

Prensky, M. (2016). Education to Better Their World: Teachers College Press

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October

Resnick, M. (2017). Lifelong Kindergarten: The MIT Press

Rönnberg, M. (1983). Skådelek och medialekar. I C. Bøgh, Småbørnsforskning i Danmark IX – Rapport fra seminaret: Børns leg i det moderne industrisamfund: Udvalget vedrørende småbørnsforskning

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