03/30/2013 | ALLISON GOEDDE Ed.D.
Despite decades of research and investment in equipping our nation’s classrooms with the latest and greatest technology, 21st century practices are still lagging behind for the majority of schools. Instructional practices today are still based on teaching students how to be taught at a time when what we need to do is teach them how to learn.
Glimpsing back 30 years, the first millennials were almost one year old when the need for education reform became apparent through the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report. By the time the first millennials were in second grade, the first National Education Summit was held and “Goals 2000” was established to make the newly minted graduating class of 2000 number one in the world in math and science. Those goals have not yet been reached.
Have our visions for technology integrated classrooms come to life?
There will be varying responses to this question, depending on whom you ask. Twenty years ago, most computers in education were in a math lab equipped with audio-tape to be able to write your own programs and then record information. If you are a baby-boomer (born between 1946-1964) who spent your free-time watching the Jetsons, or if you are a GenXer (born between 1965-1980) who saw the future through the eyes of Captain Picard, then it is likely that your education experience consisted of desks in rows with a chalkboard and overhead projector. If you are a millennial (born after 1981), in your free time you saw the world through video games and the Internet. Yet, your desk is still likely situated in a row.
People from earlier generations saw childhood from a completely different lens. Millennial students have never known life without computers and the Internet, and they regard technology as an assumed part of life. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the nation reached consensus that American education must be transformed to meet the needs of an emerging information society. The information society that was emerging is now upon us. Many educators today are teaching themselves how to integrate new technology for the purpose of modeling for students how to learn in a 21st century world. In other words educators themselves were never taught how to learn in this cutting edge fashion and are functioning in a pre-figurative environment.
Take for instance an educator today who was a pre-service teacher 15 years ago. The first iteration of the ISTE standards for students and teachers was introduced and focused primarily on technology integration practices such as productivity tools. Simply put, higher education institutions were preparing teachers to use computers for typing and presentations. Those pre-service teachers from 15 years ago have now had 15 years in-service and are designing learning experiences they themselves have never experienced, using technology that was not even thought of when they were originally trained to be teachers.
In educational settings teachers default to teaching the way they were taught rather than modeling how they learn. Learning is a constant process of measuring, action and reaction, and measuring again. Sophisticated tools available in education today can help with the measuring process. For example, no longer a new innovation, interactive whiteboards and student response systems are used to engage educators and students in the learning process. The learned educator uses this type of innovation to collect, retain, and analyze information about student learning for the purpose of accounting for their work and modeling best practices of 21st century learning.
A majority of students carry multiple electronic devices and use various communication protocols to remain connected to parents, friends, events and information. Students’ experiences with technology include entertainment, gaming, social networking and communication, and greatly contribute to their knowledge of functioning in a digital world. As a result, students of almost any age are far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy just by virtue of technological advances. In the education arena, conceptions of how technology should be used versus how it is being used provide one explanation for minimal impact of technology on current teaching and learning practices. Ideally, if technology is integrated in the classroom, it may be used to regularly measure student knowledge and diversify instruction to meet individual student learning needs based on collection and analysis of data, then optimal gains will be made in the learning process, and students and teachers collaborate using technology to teach each other. It becomes an exciting and engaging process.
Best practices are employed to develop skills to solve problems: Critical thinking, communication, interpreting and analyzing data, collaborating and organization are all examples of problem-solving skills. In this case the problem for the teacher is measuring student learning.
In the classroom, the teachers’ role changes from directing through traditional formats to empowering and facilitating in a more dynamic environment. As such, tools for engaging students include various information sources. The teacher role as facilitator becomes more about studying and analyzing student ability to meet state/national standards, using technology to help diversify and inform structure while also being able to account for progress in formative ways. Rather than electing digital tools because they are the latest and greatest, the task of technology integration should focus on best tools and practices to accomplish specific goals, such as use of digital text books to acquire primary resources of information, evaluating information for accuracy, analyzing data to draw conclusions, constructing new ideas based on fact and creativity, sharing and collaborating. Only then will skilled and savvy educators be able to creatively incorporate cutting edge ideas from the consumer electronic world. Web 2.0 Apps such as animator, xtranormal, or automation tasks will be viable tools for learners to produce new ideas, and construct new knowledge. The inspiration to learn more becomes real and the seed for lifelong learning is planted.
It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
There has never been a better time than now to be a teacher. Technology exists today to be able to track individual student learning needs in dynamic ways that make it easy and efficient to manage student learning. Ultimately within the next five years educators should put data acquired through employing educational technology tools to use in formative ways to serve students. Technologies and instruments exist to empower educators and students to define direction based on this data. An added feature to using online environment would be the ability to pull all the stakeholders together and provide a wealth of resources that might otherwise be difficult to collect. Educational specialists, teachers, administrators, parents, scientists, architects, engineers, business associates and student minds are among the community of learners to facilitate knowledge gains. Such learning structures are provided virtually anytime, anywhere and for anyone.
The Internet and advanced web tools may be used to construct paths towards individual student learning goals that are lead by teams of people who have pooled their resources in curriculum based portfolios. For instance, Salmon Khan has used technology to pool instructional tools for access by those individuals who have inquisitive minds to learn more about math from beginning to advanced levels. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are accessible for those interested in building additional skills for advanced careers. When all educators have access to such portfolios, measuring student performance and matching their skills to set direction is an easier task to accomplish. Regardless of age, cognitive milestones in children are reached at the same rate today as they were a century ago, despite innovations with technology. A clear path that all children’s brains take is the same, but the speed of taking that path is different among individual children.
Aptitude measurements; ACT/SAT and high school proficiency tests should not only used for district accountability but may also be used to inspire and streamline student interests in specific career areas. Instruments such as EXPLORE and ACT Quality Core make comparisons of student readiness toward college, as well as monitor student progress towards key benchmarks. When applied effectively, this gives students and teachers an easy way to identify how well-prepared students are for college. Features include live interactive online reporting which identifies students’ progress toward specific course standards compared to others in their cohort or district and interpretation guides are made available. The work of educators becomes evaluation and setting direction and facilitating paths to success. In a futuristic learning environment where grade levels are no longer defined, the vision becomes groups of students in a self-regulating learning environment lead by teachers who facilitate and monitor achievement of goals based on standards. They are following a road map for accomplishing standards-based goals defined by high quality educators who are using proven practices and instructional technique with varying applications and resources based on individual student goals. Is there an app for this?
Inspiration for learning takes place when curiosity levels increase. Self-regulating learners have a need to know answers to questions. Mobile devices such as iPad and Surface provide more opportunities for inquiring minds to find solutions, to be better communicators, and be better learners as a result of having better access to experts and quality current information. We are on the verge of yet another technological revolution and if our students are not experiencing the use of technological tools to seek answers and manage abundant information resources, they will continue to lag behind global education competitors.
Often we find children spending hours in front of the computer entertaining themselves. Their brains are exercising in creative ways void of any real content that is important for achieving academic goals. This is not a case of the tail wagging the dog by drawing students to the computer to “play” educational games, rather in using the tools that naturally engage their creative minds. The successful educator is one who models this practice in an organized structured and academically rich manner.
Now and in the future, educators are prepared for using the cutting edge media tools for learning in real time, thus no matter what advancements are made in technology a vision for improving learning and human potential becomes the basis for those advances. It’s about personalizing learning and getting the right resources to the student and the teacher at the right time.