Digitally Literate Teachers Needed

11/20/2009  |  PAUL E. RESTA and JILL C. MIELS
teaching technology

The technology-based global economy has changed the nature of work and the types of skills needed in most fields and professions. In industrialized nations, the economic base is shifting from industry to information. Countries, institutions, and individuals are facing significant shifts in the global environment characterized by several important factors:

The exponential growth of knowledge.The amount of information currently on the Internet is 487 billion GB, and the world’s knowledge base, both basic and applied, is doubling every two years.

A critical need for basic skills and digital literacy, and a growing demand for higher levels of education. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have changed the nature of work and the types of skills needed in most fields and professions. In fact, technology has created a wide array of jobs that did not exist 10 years ago and, at the same time, reduced the need for many types of unskilled or low skilled workers. Digital literacy is emerging as a critical skill in a knowledge-based global society and, although there are a number of definitions for digital literacy, it is clear that a digitally literate citizen will at least know how to:

  • Communicate digitally
  • Choose, apply, and keep up to date with digital tools
  • Search, process, and use information in a discriminating and responsible manner
  • Take responsibility for continuous personal learning, development, and employability

Digitally Literate Teachers

Today’s classroom teachers need to be prepared to provide technology-supported learning opportunities for their students. Being prepared to use technology and knowing how that technology can support student learning have become integral skills in every teacher’s professional repertoire.

Schools and classrooms, both real and virtual, must have teachers who are equipped with technology resources and skills, and who can effectively teach the necessary subject matter content while incorporating technology concepts and skills.

Although it is recognized that our global environment has radically changed, many schools remain largely unchanged from those of the 20th century. Moving our schools into the 21st century will require a new vision of the skills and knowledge needed by students and teachers, a new view of the teaching-learning process, and a new model for the preparation of teachers.Two professional groups in particular offer frameworks that are helpful in the advancement of preparation of teachers for the 21st century.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has developed a vision for education in the new millennium and proposes a framework that incorporates six key elements for 21st century learn-ing.The elements include:

  • Core subjects
  • 21st century content: emerging content areas such as global awareness; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; and health and wellness awareness
  • Learning and thinking skills: critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communication, creativity and innovation, collaboration, contextual learning, information and media literacy
  • Information and communication technology (ICT) skills: using technology in the context of learning so students know how to learn
  • Life skills: leadership, ethics, accountability, personal responsibility, self-direction; and 21st century assessments: authentic assessments that measure all areas of learning (

The framework identifies new roles for teachers in the teaching-learning process, in which they move away from the role of knowledge dispenser to that of learning facilitator.

The teacher technology standards developed by the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) are congruent with the 21st Century Skills framework and include the following performance indicators for teachers:

  • Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity
  • Design and develop digital-age learning experiences and assessments
  • Model digital-age work and learning;
  • Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
  • Engage in professional growth and leadership

These standards are essential for teachers so that they can enable their students to also meet the following technology standards:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Research and information fluency
  • Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making
  • Digital citizenship systems and operations

Teacher education needs to change to meet these standards as part of the larger effort to move our schools into the 21st century.The transition from 20th century schools to 21st century learning environments will not be easy, and will require all educational stakeholders (e.g., legislators, state boards of education, state education agencies, schools, colleges of education, business and industry) to develop a shared vision of 21st century learning, and to work together to accomplish that vision.Achieving this goal will be critical if our nation is to remain competitive in a rapidly changing technology and knowledge-based global society.

Paul E. Resta is at The University of Texas at Austin, Ruth Knight Millikan Centennial Professorship and is the Director of the Learning Technology Center. Jill C. Miels is an associate professor at Ball State University.
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