Last week I had a long awaited ‘catch up’ with a very dear friend of mine.
She is passionate, well educated, opinionated, articulate and committed beyond belief to both her work as a secondary school teacher and her family, which includes two young children just on the cusp of their foray with formal education.
Our conversation hit a rock though when she stated – emphatically – that she has re-thought her previous beliefs and is now convinced that the future of education is not in technology! No way, she told me, is there a need or value for technology to be the major focal point of education. There are, she stated in her wonderfully animated and expressive manner, far more important skills that our children must learn during their school years. Technology, she is convinced, is not the answer to ‘teaching’ our children well. Twenty years from now, she predicts, technology will not be the focus of education!
While hardly stopping to draw breath, she continued telling me that she believed that it was far more important for our children to learn skills of communication, leadership, creativity, compassion, patience, understanding, cooperation, consideration, supportiveness, collaboration, persistence, fortitude, benevolence, resourcefulness alongside the controlled expression of emotions such as those of love, hatred, tolerance, joy, belief, trust, happiness, acceptance, rage, and terror.
How, she asked, will peace in the Middle East be attained? Through computer technology or via direct negotiations involving understanding, resolution of differences and compromise? How will we resolve issues of food and water shortages throughout the world if people are not able to talk to each other or feel empathy toward each other? How, she continued, will we be able to control global warming if we don’t directly meet with each other and discuss one to one? If our children only communicate via Facebook, Twitter and email, how, she queried, will they learn the nuances of voice inflection and facial expression which are so essential to human communication? If computer technology is the major focus of our children’s education how, she pondered, will our children grow up to be well rounded leaders of organizations and countries throughout the world. Developing empathetic human beings, she contended, should be the major focus in our schools, not technology.
I found myself spellbound and mesmerised by her ability to so clearly, on the spur of the moment, in a coffee shop, express her beliefs so articulately and so passionately. It was clear that her words were based on a wellspring of well thought out beliefs.
Fired up, but not nearly as articulate as my friend, I attempted to reply. My spluttering comments were heard and considered, but were quickly rebutted by anecdotes citing some of her most valuable teaching moments. By and large these centered upon those amazing, unplanned, heart-to-heart chats unexpectedly had at the start, the middle or the end of a lesson, or the ones at lunch time, in the playground, or at the end of the day on the way to home from school: those chats that turn into inspiring, powerful lessons of life, the ones in which our students develop an appreciation of the value and importance of their contribution to their family, their culture, their society and the world at large. There wouldn’t be a teacher out there reading these words who hasn’t, more than once, experienced this joy filled interaction with their students. It’s impossible to counter the value and influence these ‘incidental’ lessons have on the overall educational development of our students. And yes – technology plays no part!
But I returned home and have taken time to think about my response had we had more time to sit and chat. My words would have run something like this:
Students today are computer savvy in ways that didn’t exist even ten years ago. This fact needs to be acknowledged and utilized to the advantage of our students’ education.
- Teaching 21st Century students with 20th Century styles of instruction evokes disinterest and boredom in our classrooms.
- Teaching 21st Century students with 20th Century styles ignores the knowledge and skills our students bring to the classroom.
- As digital natives, our students enter our schools with an expectation that they can use their skills in the classroom.
- School curriculum needs to harness students’ knowledge and skills and make them part of the curriculum.
- Students have an expectation that their teachers are fluent in the use of 21st Century technology.
- Teachers need to integrate technology into their teaching style, so as to maintain relevancy in the eyes of their students.
- The centre of education has shifted from the teacher to networks of students who, facilitated by technology, help one another learn.
- 21st Century education is about mobile computing which enables collaboration and global learning. Global education is no longer a given, it is a fact.
- Teachers need to teach students with the tools they need for life now for life in the future.
- Incorporating technology into our curriculum, our teaching style and the manner in which students demonstrate mastery of knowledge will promote student engagement.
This promotional video, created by New Brunswick Pubic Schools in Canada, graphically demonstrates the shift that has occurred in education. It emphasizes many of my points above. Learning, it says, must:
- be student centered and personalized;
- provide experiences and opportunities to apply knowledge;
- be accessible 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year;
- be accessible anywhere, anytime
It concludes that 21st Century students use technology to access content, demonstrate mastery, publish their work, maintain a portfolio of their skills and interact with the world. Technology is very much a part of current education.
Massive expenditure has been pumped into our schools over the last ten years to ensure that students have access to the best hardware and software available. Simultaneously, teacher professional learning programs have seen a frenzied emphasis on inculcating technology skills into our teaching force showing them ways in which technology can be integrated into the curriculum. As younger, digital native teachers rise up the ranks of our schools, they will, in time, replace older teachers, many of whom have adopted technology as digital immigrants.
But what of the future of education? Will technology retain its current central focus? Perhaps my friend does has a point and in twenty years technology will be seen less as a central feature than as a tool used to enhance teaching and learning – that which has always been the mainstay of education.
I have, however, a passionate belief, that while students of today are indeed digital natives and need little assistance to learn how to use technology, it is us, their teachers who are experts in teaching and guiding the learning of our students. It is, I believe, teachers who are best placed to create learning programs that teach students how technology can be used as tools and stepping stones in their quest to become independent lifelong learners. I am, therefore, convinced that technology will be as central to education in twenty years as it is today.
Knowledge of use and knowledge of how to use are two very different issues.
Being able to fluently use technology is very different to knowing how to manipulate technology to locate information sought. In other words, using Google as a search engine is common practice. But understanding and learning how to use Google as a search tool needs to be taught in our schools. Being able to evaluate hits returned, to weigh up both their relevancy and reliability, require critical thinking skills that also must be taught. As I mentioned in a previous post on NovaNews, Google can’t replace learning. Assuming that our Digital Natives know it all, is incorrect. Just recently the website Boing Boing blogged on this very topic: “Digital Natives” need help understanding search.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, my friend and I came, I think, to a shared belief that technology does have a place in education, and will in the future, albeit one as a tool and as a way of enhancing the learning of the kinds of fundamental skills that my friend listed.
Although I look forward to our next ‘catch up’ in a month or so, we’ve arranged a date – 20 years from now – in the same coffee shop, to check whether her prediction eventuates!!