Traditions die hard in the teaching profession, but educators must face up to the fact that 21st century tools are needed to teach digital learners.
AS AN educator myself, I have many friends who are teachers and they often seem happy and comfortable teaching the way they have been taught when they were in school.
I often hear that teachers are reluctant to use technology to teach because they see it as a waste of time.
Are you one of those teachers?
If you are, then dip your toe into the 21st century; it may be cold at first, but it will warm up very quickly.
You’ll find that technology is a tool that not only engages and challenges the student, but the teacher as well.
This is the 21st century and our students are 21st century digital learners!
We may not always have all the resources, but we can still find a way to not only educate but to engage our students, digitally.
What is digital learning?
According to the Digital Learning Day webpage:
Digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience.
Digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practice, including using online and formative assessment, increasing focus and quality of teaching resources and time, online content and courses, applications of technology in the classroom and school building, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning platforms, participating in professional communities of practice, providing access to high level and challenging content and instruction, and many other advancements technology provides to teaching and learning. In particular, blended learning is any time a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and, at least in part, through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and pace.
Now, that’s a mouthful! To me, digital learning means:
·Allowing students to take control of their learning using technology as a guide;
·Creating comic strips to depict a situation in learning;
·Having discussions about shared books with students across the world;
·Completing research projects through chat or discussion groups online, using an Interactive Whiteboard (I have a Smartboard) to make your lessons interactive; or,
·Skyping with a student in another state to bring a story to life.
It means so many things; most of all, it means using technology as a tool to engage and challenge our 21st century learners.
But we teachers don’t need yet another “new and shiny tool” for our profession unless it does something powerful and relevant to the learning potential. Any new technology must first be couched in powerful and relevant learning potential.
Learn as you go along
The list above could make digital learning look like a scary prospect. Time is not something that a teacher has a lot of, either at work or home.
But you don’t have to do everything at once. It took me a while, and every day I still learn something new.
Take baby steps, try one new thing each month.
Students are, after all, digital natives who already know a lot and are comfortable with using technology and Web 2.0.
Teachers, therefore, need to be comfortable as well in order to be on the same frequency as students and engage them.
Let students show you or give you suggestions on what you can do with the myriad of resources that are available for use.
Grow your PLN (Professional Learning Network), then drop in on some of the “Teacher Chats” that are available. It’s amazing how much you can learn from your peers.
Of course, it is not as simple as saying, “Yes, I will integrate technology into all my teaching.” It is a complex and enigmatic situation that needs to take into consideration many things.
For example, you may need to change the pedagogy and practices so that integrating computers can be successful.
There needs to be a constructive approach where there is collaborative learning, and where students are taking responsibility for their learning.
Unless the environment is right, the technology will only be used as an add-on or as an information tool.
How is that better than using an encyclopaedia? No better really, except you get more information faster.
There needs to be an evolution to ensure technology is being integrated successfully into teaching and learning.
This has to do with the teacher, the pedagogy, attitude, experience and training. Ultimately it is the teacher who decides what technology to use, when and how to use it, or in some cases not to use it at all.
The bottom line
We are communicating, sharing, networking etc through digital technology and free or open source materials, and this is only going to increase in the future.
It cuts across social, religious, political, economic and cultural lines — poor and rich; educated and illiterate; white collar and blue collar; men, women and kids, and so on.
However, the education profession still tends to compartmentalise technology and regard it as a separate subject to master, such as computer programmes.
The days of keeping technology as a fixed subject, rather than integrated into our daily lives and learning, are well gone.
I believe that ICT integration helps learners develop understanding rather than simply absorbing what others tell them.
It requires teachers to shift from merely transmitting knowledge to helping learners gain meaningful understanding, and giving them guidance as well as autonomy to capture and present their thinking. This is the challenge for teachers.
As it is, teachers are given new software and hardware to use and then given an hour or two of “training” on the technical aspects of their use.
This does nothing to address the kinds of shifts necessary to achieve meaningful and powerful things with these tools. Training should be a by-product of meaningful experience in the use of technology by teachers.
The current one-shot in-service workshop or training is rarely followed up with feedback and support or follow-up training.
To improve professional practices, and consequently to improve student learning, teachers need opportunities for collaboration, sharing of ideas, feedback and assistance.
Peer coaching is a non-judgmental and non-evaluative process in which teachers work together for their own mutual benefit.
They can share new ideas, reflect, teach one another, conduct classroom observations, and solve problems in the workplace.
The writer is a senior lecturer at the School of Educational Studies in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Her main interest in research is in the area of ICT in Education and the use of Peer Coaching in technology integration in teaching and learning. Her most recent achievement is a Gold Medal in the Malaysian Technology Expo 2011 for creating a courseware using the SmartBoard. She is currently working on the development of an Interactive Teaching and Learning Lab in USM