When we’re focusing upon technology, we’re usually stressing the how we are going to generate improvement; however, while we discuss the how behind school improvement we should never neglect the why or for what purpose we’re “reforming.”
The reality is that if we neglect these why and what questions then nothing happens and we run the risk of becoming what I like to call distractible professionals in an age of engagement.
What is apparent to me is that at the heart of the matter of tech integration, teaching and learning are still of paramount importance. At John Oliver for example, in the absence of some key learning characteristics – technological literacy, self-direction, and organizational skills – our students still need the traditional mediators of knowledge: teachers. They need teachers to help them to focus on the processes of learning, habits of mind, and life skills that they’ll need to be successful. This reality is impacting how our teachers are integrating technology in their classes.
At our annual student forum last year, students echoed the sentiments of teachers when they said they needed more time to ‘get it’. In addressing this issue, a few of our teachers now podcast their lessons so that students can access them when they like for however long they like. They know that expecting all of their students to ‘get it’ in class, first time, is not realistic. In science classes, for example, these teachers know that by reversing their service delivery, by saying that the homework is to watch the lesson, students can enter class next day and immediately commence with a hands on lab. To paraphrase Bruce Bearisto, in recognizing that a screenager’s passionate compliance is not akin to educational engagement, these teachers are not merely teaching with technology, they are using technology to convey content to their students in a fashion that, based on their learning needs, is both educationally powerful and efficient.
An English teacher, in appreciating the fact that literacy levels in her class are low engages her students in digitalk – texting their thoughts about a short story using their cell phones. By valuing the language that her students use outside of school and engaging them in writing about content in less formal ways, she can focus on writing and critical thinking, and give value to the literacy that her students bring to class. Ultimately, by teaching code-switching practices, she helps her students become conscious of the language choices they make.
In terms of technology there is no doubt that with the ready availability of information in open-source online environments, the traditional perspective of the classroom will change. But we must be cognizant of the fact that the ability to use digital devices in no way means that students know anything about global awareness or health literacy, learning and innovation skills, life and career skills or even media literacy skills. In the end, we need to embrace these new technologies and leverage them both to help students learn content and to free up time for them to engage in creative work that has meaning and significance in terms of their personal and academic development. And in doing this we never forget the pivotal role the teacher plays as the ultimate learning coach.