In this day and age, how has it come to a point where we have children whose skills and understanding of the digital realm far outstrip the people they are supposed to be learning from?
I guess that the obvious answer to this question is that this has always been the case and that when we were younger we also began to access areas of understanding that our own parents never had access to. So what’s all the fuss about then? Hey, let’s just let the kids sort it out themselves and we will keep teaching them what we know works well for us. We will be safe, sticking with our tried and trusted methods, until the Earth finally turns cold and we are buried with our pencils, papers and wooden desks with a small inkwell in the corner!
Now this is exactly the sort of attitude that does nothing to help anyone-students or teachers! What we need to do, as educators and parents, is provide a learning platform that allows our children to become more proficient in the current digital realm. If you like, we need to become their guides on the journeys they will take through their time with us. I think this line from an article by Shane Gower on ‘living and learning with New Media’ sums it up nicely:
Teachers need to evolve to become Connectors or expert participants.
How do we do this when the introduction of new technologies to help teachers guide students on their journeys has become a real issue for many educators though? Quite simply many teachers are unsure of how to use these new technologies and fear that they will have to rewrite their own internal teaching manuels in order to participate. Of course, not every educator feels this way!
There are many other educators who want to experiment and investigate the digital ‘New World’ and then adapt and implement what they find there. I have noticed that this educational fork in the learning highway is already starting to cause quite a dilemma for schools, teachers and parents. I have also become aware of the feelings of disatisfaction and irritation that many teachers have when confronted with the use of technology in the classroom. So what do we do when we have those who want to go forward yet we also have those who wish to remain stationary?
Well over the last year, I have done a great deal of soul-searching over this very question. On the one hand, my answer would very definitely be “Move forward and don’t look back!” But on the other hand, I also like a lot of what the children learn (and how they learn it) in my class, and I’m not sure that I want to give that up. Perhaps though, it could be said, that therein lies the beginnings of an answer to the question.
I think that there is definitely a case for using what we already have in our current units of work and lesson plans and tweaking them to get the best of both worlds. This seems to be the safest option and the course that many schools would logically move towards. In fact, this strategy could be likened to ‘dabbling’ and ‘doing old things in old ways’ as Marc Prensky mentions in his article on shaping tech for the classroom.
However will this strategy ultimately be the best cause of action for a school to take? Surely if you really want the students, your working with, to maximise their learning opportunities then you will have to take option four; which means ‘doing new things in new ways’. In my mind there is no doubt that option four would lead to more of an emphasis on digital tools being more fully integrated into a school’s curriculum. This in turn would lead to a larger focus on PBL.
Peer Based Learning-where learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture-Living with new Media, The MacArthur Foundation, page 39
However, in order for us to give our children the best opportunities to learn, then we can’t let our own feelings about the digital realm and it’s new technologies get in the way of our responsibilities as educators. Those teachers who actively resist the new technologies and tools that are available to us are ultimately going to fall further and further out of touch with the realities of being a global citizen of the modern world. It is no good saying that I can make do with what I already have or that I don’t need to worry about learning to operate a new application or program because the students don’t need to use it until later in life. NO! That is unfairly disadvantaging the students we are teaching. We are responsible for making sure that we understand which tools are the best for us to provide the best learning experience possible. We also have a responsibility to know how to use those tools in a way which benefits the students otherwise we will become no better than cave dwellers trying to work out what the big round thing is for!