Monday, March 10, 2008

Are Teachers Ready for 21st Century Learning?

Are Teachers Ready for 21st Century Learning? This is an article that I read this weekend which started me to think about where we are today with technology in the classroom. This is constantly in my thoughts as I learn new things every day.

In this article the author refers to another article written by Karl Fisch, “In it, Fisch points out an all-too-troubling tendency on the part of teachers to take great pride in their inability to be efficient users of technology. He also wonders whether being technologically illiterate today is analogous to being unable to read or write in the early 20th Century.” I tend to see my colleagues using the same excuse to not try new technology or experiment with new software. They also use excuses as I don’t have the time or I’m already overwhelmed with new stuff that I have to use.

A special education teacher is quoted as saying, “I think as educators, we must pick and choose what is most important for our students, in terms of what will benefit them and their learning. I realize now how using technology to teach a child with writing and reading disabilities will benefit them tremendously when they learn how to type a document, listen to information through our computer's speakers, or e-mail me when they are confused or troubled.” As teachers, we should use our judgment when looking at what might work with our students. Since we are the ones in the classroom with them and understand the student’s strengths and weaknesses, we should pick programs that might help the student the best. The only way we would know this is by actually working with the programs and trying them out. I have found that although it took extra time to learn the programs, it save me time in the long run and actually freed me to work more closely with my students.

A high school teacher states, “What fear exists among educators (teachers, administrators, etc.) toward technology is, I suspect, part of a larger, older fear of loss of control…when it comes to technology, many in education find themselves wading into waters where it's the students who are more competent and comfortable; where they [who are used to being in front— literally] are already behind, and the conditions keep changing. Some find it exhilarating; others are so afraid of drowning they panic— which, of course, causes them to sink faster.” I think that is a major key to all of this. Many teachers are afraid. When people are afraid, they tend to be paralyzed. I feel that teachers are afraid that the students know more than them but I don’t see that as something to be feared. I see it as an opportunity to learn more. Maybe it is because I feel that learning is an exchange of ideas and if the person with the knowledge is younger than me, which is okay. (Of course, as I age, the amount of people with more knowledge than me increases tremendously!).

I guess my final thought is that we need to push our fears aside and look at what is in the best interest of our students. Yes, it may take time, and yes there is a learning curve. But that goes with the job of being a teacher. We need to be examples for our students and we constantly are asking them to take risks by trying new things and learning new knowledge. Shouldn’t we be the models for this thinking? I believe if we do this, our experiences in the classroom would be more successful.

Photo credit: Reading Skills in the Computer Lab by Old Shoe Woman


C Seibel said...

While I agree that teachers need to challenge themselves to try technologies, your post made me think that the root cause is not a fear of technology but rather a fear of changing practice. When we use technology in different ways, particularly with our special needs students, it is premised on a differentiated approach to instruction and learning.

What would happen if we shifted our focus from "learning technology" to "thinking differently about our practice"? Would more teachers engage? How would professional development look different?

Karen Janowski said...

Let me add to what cseibel commented. As educators our job is to educate our students. We have many students who struggle with a variety of challenges that prevent them from learning from "accepted" instructional methods. (Might I add that no research exists that demonstrates the effectiveness of lecture, textbooks or paper based methods of demonstrating knowledge acquisition). Therefore, as professionals aren't we compelled to use instructional methods that ARE demonstrated to work? Look at the research from CAST on Universal Design for Learning - multiple methods of representation, engagement and expression. Embedded technology integration works - digitally presented materials remove the obstacles to learning for many students - when things are digital, they are accessible. You can adjust the font size, attach a voice, highlight material. Students can listen to orally presented information repeated when it is uploaded to a computer. Collaborative Read/write tools allow students who take additional time to process information time to participate beyond the four walls of the classroom. I could go on and on but my point is if we are professionals who care about our students we will use "whatever it takes" to help them learn and succeed. Whatever it takes includes technology - how incredible for us that we have these tools readily available to us!

loonyhiker said...

c seibel and karen janowski: Thank you for those great comments! I never understood why differentiated learning didn't apply to all students and just special ed students. I think we will have to change the way we practice!

Kelly - PTT said...

Interesting post - you offer great support to teachers trying to improve their practices here.

Here via COE - my Flat Stanley post was included also.

loonyhiker said...

Kelly-PTT: Thanks for stopping by and commenting!