Integrating Technology for the 21st Century School

11/20/2009  |  DANNY MARTINEZ
21st century technology
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“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,atale of a fatefultrip...” Most ofus will recognize these lines as the opening song from the popular TV show Gilligan’s Island.The majority of us were born into a world where television was exploding. Many of us may remember black-and-white television, watching the moon landing, or having only one television in the home, if any. Those of us in this group speak in a language that relies heavily on cultural references that were shaped and formed by television. We know about Luke and Laura, who shot JR, and “where’s the beef?” For us, there were only three networks.

Fast forward to the present, and there are hundreds of networks, unlimited access to information 24/7. College students today were born into a world where computers were commonplace. These “digital natives” speak in tweets and chats. They LOL. They ROFL. And, they work and learn in a way that is very different from us. As educators, it is our responsibility to adapt, to change, to grow and to learn how best to reach these new kinds of learners.

What Is So Different Now?

Our educational system was designed for an agrarian society. We still work on roughly the same calendar as we did 100 years ago. We teach logically, in a very linear fashion. Our students, however, speak hypertext. They jump from one piece of information to another with a click. They have a much broader view of how things interrelate. They move fast. They form online groups and, yet, maintain fierce individuality.

Although many schools still approach technology as a separate area, we need to see technology as an integral part of every class. In the same way that we use a dictionary or encyclopedia, we can use online search engines like Google; in the same way that we use poster boards, we can use photo-layout software. In the same way that we create and use data in the classroom, we can use spreadsheet software. And most important, in the same way that we seek out opportunities to work in groups and collaborate, we can use technology to make this task easier.

Technology in the classroom of the 21st century revolves around communication and collaboration. It is informed by data. And it is seamless in instruction.

Communication and Collaboration

Communication and collaboration are the backbone of the Internet; the purposes for which it was created. For example, more and more teachers are requiring their students to have e-mail accounts, whether the accounts belong to the students or to their parents. Teachers can use e-mail to send home newsletters, assignments and other information. But most importantly, e-mail encourages communication and collaboration.

Web 2.0 is a powerful and increasingly popular means of communicating and collaborating online. Web 2.0 applications and sites are designed for interactivity and the sharing of informa-tion. They include Facebook, Flicker, YouTube and blogs. Web 2.0 is about connecting people through similar interests. Although by no means exhaustive, the following list provides a starting place for incorporating Web 2.0 technology into the classroom.

Ning (ning.com) “is the social platform for interests and passions.”Think Facebook but in a secure, closed network that the teacher controls. This free online tool allows users to create a site about themselves and a subject they care about, and encourages collaboration. Users can post information, photos, videos, and work and share them with anyone who has been invited into the network by the teacher.

Blogs (blogger.com) are basically online journals. The real power of blogs in a classroom setting comes when a teacher uses them as a writing tool and encourages peer review by students. Teachers can control who is allowed to post, read and comment to these online journals.

Wikis (wikispaces.com) are collaborative writing spaces. They are editable by all users in a group. Wikis enable students to contribute their own unique knowledge of a subject and collaborate with their peers in the creation of a final document.

Video tools (iMovie, Photostory, Moviemaker) are popular with aspiring storytellers and have become increasingly easy to use. Many students are posting the “movies” they create to sites like YouTube.com. But is there a value in making these online movies? Absolutely, provided the instructor focuses students’ creative juices in creating movies that tell meaningful, well-thought-out stories. To create a really good movie requires writing, planning, structure and performance. And, it requires time. If a simpler approach is desired, students can use digital still images instead of actual video to make their movies. By using tools like iMovie, students can create sweeping movement through photographs, just like a Ken Burns documentary.

TeacherTube (teachertube.com) is like YouTube without the questionable content. This site for students and educators provides access to thousands of student-and teacher-created videos that are content rich. Everything from historical reenactments to math rap songs can be found here.

Auction sites (e.g., ebay.com) have educational uses in addition to the obvious use of making money by cleaning out the storage rooms. For example, students can use eBay to explore the economy and the markets. Students can track and watch what types of goods are selling or not selling. They can see how prices fluctuate day to day. And they can analyze different strategies that sellers use to market their wares.

Although the use of such sites do raise legitimate concerns about privacy and appropriate content that need to be addressed, the sites are not bad in and of themselves. Teachers do need to focus students’ use of them, however, and have the responsibility of setting in place proper controls and structure. In many cases, students are using tools like these already in some form or other. It is up to educators to catch up and help students learn how to use them in a positive way.

Danny Martinez is the project director at SEDL. For more information visit www.sedl.org.
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