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If there is one thing that I am sure of as an educator it is that rapid change greatly affects both what and how we learn. If there is a second thing that I am sure of as an educator it is that the evolution of technology is the driver of rapid change throughout our culture. Both of these factors in education and our culture lead me to question if teachers are being properly prepared to teach students whose learning is affected by so many different influences? The past learning experiences of educators are so different from the current and evolving experiences of their students that relevance as an educator is extremely important. Do today’s teachers understand the learning needs of today’s students?

A generational gap is a world of difference in terms of technology. For this reason I feel that many educators are products of a 20th century education that limits them as educators in the 21st century. Of course there are educators who have continually, professionally developed to stay relevant, but maybe not in enough numbers to make a great difference.

In the 20th century information was for the most part slower to change and often controlled by a small group of power brokers. News came from newspapers and magazines that were limited to publishing cycles and editors. The media was dominated by three networks which were limited by news cycles and strict editorial boards. Censors were assigned to every entertainment show to regulate the perceived moral agenda. Encyclopedias took years to amend and edit with an additional year to physically publish and were limited in circulation by high costs to the general public. Most households had telephones, but not a private line for each household member. The challenges of rapid change were not yet in place even though the stage was being set.

The Vietnam War began to awaken changes in the way we viewed the news. Journalists used more media tools in their reporting. Photos and film began to be broadcast in the news cycle, which was at a family-gathered dinnertime for most Americans. Students were moved by what they saw and many began to demonstrate against the government in numbers never before seen. These demonstrations then became media news as well, which exacerbated the anti-war movement. It took years of this to bring the war to an end, even with the help of the existing technology, which was controlled by forces heavily influenced by the government.

This was the way it was until the introduction of cable for more choice in entertainment and 24 hour news reporting. Gaming came along with Pong and later Donkey Kong, followed by The Oregon Trail. Calculators became portable and electronic. Life was good and teaching was pretty much focused on lecture and direct instruction because that was how it was always done. It worked because that was all we knew. The teacher stood in the front and students sat in rows.

The Internet was about to take a wrecking ball to that whole mindset prevalent in that century in that world.

Now we arrive in the 21st century with all of its technological advances. The Internet provides access to most of information ever to be established in the world. It provides access to entertainment that is often uncensored and unfiltered. Smartphones, which are not really phones, but powerful computers with phone capabilities. People have 24-hour connectivity to any person or source for the purpose of collaboration, curation, or simple communication. Computer-generated games that are realistic and intelligent, that may be played collaboratively and simultaneously with people around the world.

What does all of this have to do with our students today is the question that we need to address. Students today have grown up after all of these changes have taken place. Their world is different than many of their educators. It is also continuing to evolve even at a faster pace than ever before experienced and it will continue that way into the future.

Today’s students have grown up immersed in technology. They have had access to computers their entire lives. Their smartphones have more power than the computers that were used to put a man on the moon. Students are entertained by shows that they can select from literally hundreds of choices, most uncensored. Their news exposure is 24 hours a day from many sources. They can follow blogs that speak to their interests. They have mastered social media. They are comfortable collaborating with others. They are comfortable creating their own information in the form of text, music, audio, or video. The most important part of this is that their computer is their publisher. They need no adult permission to publish whatever they want to a waiting world on the Internet. They accept failure in games as a challenge to overcome in order to win. They can access any information at anytime to question any facts adults may throw at them. The most important point here is that they can also learn in spite of an irrelevant educator. Information once controlled by academia is now free and easily accessed.

Educators should view these technology skills as assets to be supported and enhanced. Critical thinking should be a key to accessing the valid and valued information needed. Collaborative learning should be the focus before lecture and direct instruction. Students who have great choices in their everyday lives should have more of a say in their own learning. Student voice is essential for students to own their learning. Mentoring students in using their technology skills to curate, communicate, and create content is a more effective way to learn than to simply consume teacher-selected content.

Educators need to understand that they are teaching kids to live in a world that is not yet here. We are not slow to change any longer. Developing students who are flexible and willing to continually learn is the best we can do to insure their future. Teaching kids how to learn is more important than to teach them what to learn. They will find on their own what it is that they personally need to learn. Preparation for that point in time is what we need to teach them.

As I watch these students from Parkland, Florida, I am more convinced that this is the way we must teach. These kids are not “Actors” as some suggest. They are articulate, intelligent, technology savvy students who have a need to learn, create, collaborate, and communicate. They do it so well; it causes 20th century thinkers to question their validity. They are real, and now have a cause and a purpose with the skills to present it to their country.

I am not saying that all teachers are not doing their best to teach. I believe that most are doing their very best. I also believe that in a world where change is so rapid, the tools that educators have been prepared with may no longer serve that purpose. We need to continually train educators more than one or two days in a year. Irrelevant teachers are the fault of the districts in which they work. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

 

 

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I recently read yet another article that questioned the effect of using technology in education. I believe it stated that there are 3.6 million educators using edtech as the basis for the post. The post itself was well done, but throughout my reading I was troubled by what defined an edtech-using educator. How is it determined that an educator is truly an edtech user?

I have been in meetings where educators had to fill out questionnaires asking about their technology experience. They claimed to be technology-using educators based solely on their use of Power Point for lectures. Technically using Power Point for a lecture does require technology, but that is like claiming to be a social media guru after using Facebook to only follow some family members who post their family vacation pictures at every opportunity.

If we were to do a survey of ten educators who claim to be edtech-users and six of them base their claim on power point lectures alone, and two use tech to send digital worksheets to their students, and the final two educators have students using tech apps for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, we could confidently claim that Edtech is not having a great effect on learning. It would be effective for probably less than 20% of the students. The next obvious question would be, how much of an effect is tech having on learning in the classes of those final two educators alone? I imagine the resulting percentage would be a much more positive influence than the other classes, but we lump everyone together.

If we are to establish data on the effects of technology in education, we need to first establish a valid method of evaluating the information from a level playing field. We need to evaluate the experience of the educators claiming to use it. Teachers, who have been identified as users of tech to teach need to, at the very least, be digitally literate. Consequently, we first need to define what is meant by digitally literate. It should not require that a person needs expertise on every application available, but it does assume at the least a comfort with some tools for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, the very things we want our students to learn. How many schools can claim a majority of their teachers and administrators have such a comfort level with technology?

In order to determine the effect of technology on learning for students, we need to establish the effects of technology on teaching for teachers. Let us collect data from tech-savvy teachers who model tech use as much as they would hope for their students’ use to be. We need to clearly state what we expect a technology-literate educator to be. It is no longer acceptable to allow educators or administrators to determine what they are minimally going to commit to when it comes to learning tech for professional development. We have reached a point where what was minimally accepted even five years ago is not acceptable now. We must have higher standards for educators if we have certain expectations for students. The education system does not create what society demands for students to survive and thrive in this technology-driven world. It does however need prepare kids for that very life.

Of course this will never be a popular position to take with most educators. They have all attended school for years to prepare for their positions. Their preparation to become an educator was left in the hands of the colleges and universities under the scrutiny of accreditation organizations. The question is how do those institutions stay relevant in an ever-changing technology-driven world?

If the demands of the world that we live in keep evolving and changing at a pace never before experienced in history, we need to adjust what we are doing to meet those demands. We cannot count on 20th Century methodology to prepare our kids for 21st Century demands. Before we redefine what we expect from our students, we need to first redefine what we expect from their educators. If we need to determine if technology is having a positive effect on learning, we need to determine if it is being equally provided to students by educators who have a thorough understanding of technology and are flexible enough to meet the inevitable changes that technology fosters. As always, if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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One undeniable fact Polar bear on Iceabout teaching is that teachers not only need to be masters of content within their subject area, but they must also be masters of education as a subject. Another undeniable fact is that neither of those subject areas looks the same as when any teacher first mastered them. One effect of the integration of technology into our society is that change in almost everything is happening at a pace never before experienced by mankind. As much as some people may yearn for the simpler times of the past, life will continue to move forward as the natural order of society requires.

The influence of additional information on any subject may often affect how we deal with that subject. In our history, once we had more information on the effects of smoking, smoking habits of millions of people changed. Once we learned what we now understand about the benefits of physical activity, several sports related industries were spawned. Once we learned what we now know of communication, several music and print industries disappeared while being replaced with better in many ways. If we do not take time to understand new information and how it interacts with what we do, we, as a profession, may go the way of typewriters, photographic film, super 8 film, 8 track cassettes, landline telephones, or block-ice refrigeration.

I always viewed education as a preparation for students to learn enough content and skills to use for creating their own content in whatever field they decided to enter. Teachers residing in schools were the keepers of information. Schools determined who got what information and when they got it. Information for kids was determined and dispensed by the teacher. Control and compliance were the keys to the information and allowed for the orderly distribution of content. This was education or centuries.
Now, with the advent of technology and the unlimited access to what often appears to be limitless information, as well as access to untold numbers of people through social media, there is a great change for those who understand it. There is also a great change for those who do not choose to understand it. The cold hard fact here is that technology is now providing us with the tools for “Do It Yourself Learning”. It is not the “mail order courses” of days gone by. It is a real way for some students to circumvent the system that is in place and at their own pace and their own direction learn what they choose to learn. All of this can be delivered in whatever form a student determines is in his or her learning preference, text, video, music, or live face-to-face interaction. There may come a time for some that they will learn in spite of their teachers not teaching them what they need in the way they need it.

In the past I have always said that a computer could never replace a teacher, because learning was based on relationships. Today, I am not so sure. In a profession that is information-based, we must acknowledge that information undergoes change. What we knew a short while back may no longer be relevant in a rapidly changing world. Both areas that teachers are required to master, their subject content, and education have both undergone change no matter when it was any teacher mastered them. Staying up-to-date, relevant, on information in your own profession is a moral imperative. We can’t expect what we learned as college students to carry us through a 30 or 40-year career.
Time and money are often the reasons educators give for not seeking to develop further professionally. They are powerful reasons indeed, but not insurmountable. A fear of technology by many is also offered up as a reason for lack of development. I have come to believe that these are just the excuses, while the real reason for the lack of professional development for educators is the comfort of the Status Quo. Comfort zones are obstacles to change. It may be change itself that most are fearful of. We can’t all agree that change is needed in education, and then refuse to change as individual educators. The system can’t demand change of teachers without examining its own professional development programs that have been so ineffective over the centuries that PD has been offered. Colleges can no longer continue to produce teachers based on a twentieth century model of a classroom teacher.

Anyone entering teaching as a profession must do it with the awareness and a commitment to life long learning, because the teacher you come out of college as, is not the teacher your students will need. It will forever be a changing and evolving position. Teaching is not an easy job. It requires teachers to be uncomfortable with change for a lifetime. However, if we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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snapshot-cameraIn a world where we emphasize branding systems, organizations and even people with all the positives, while downplaying all the negatives, it becomes very difficult to get an accurate picture of something so obscured with both what is real and what is hype. Nowhere is this more evident than at any public occasion where a school/district administrator describes his or her school’s/district’s success in being a model of 21st century learning. It is on such occasions that buzzwords and acronyms play such a significant role in confusing the picture of where we really are in education.

I am always wary of any administrator’s description of programs within their schools as if one successful program supported by a few progressive and passionate educators in a school is typical of all that is going on throughout the district. I am equally wary of teachers in public sessions presenting progressive lessons supported with technology and student voice as typical lessons employed by all of their fellow educators in their school or district. This is also a practice of our professional organizations in Education. They promote themselves as leading edge tech drivers for learning, while their sponsors, tech companies, drive most of that and not their members, educators.

We should all share with others great things that we are doing in education. These are the very things needed to inform and inspire others to step up as well. We should not however sell it as the norm for the school unless it is. More often than not however these are exceptional examples for a very good reason: others are not replicating them.

Of course the obvious question, to me at least, is: If this description of progressive, tech-supported, collaborative, student supported learning is so positively impactful in describing a school or district, why aren’t we pushing for it through our policies, professional development, and money? Why are these things still the exceptions to the rule in education? If the control and compliance strategy of the 20th century is not what is being touted as an exemplar for 21st Century learning presented to the public, why is it still so prevalent in the system? Why are we not reframing our definition of an administrator and teacher to be digitally literate? Why are we not giving voice to all constituents in a school community? Why are we not promoting a school culture that supports collaboration and technological competence for all life long learners that includes all administrators, teachers and students? Why are we not providing authentic, respectful, differentiated Professional Development to our educators?

We should have pride in our schools. We should share with people the wonderful things that are being accomplished. Teachers should share their most successful lessons with other educators. If however we take those snapshots of great things and convince or even imply to people that this is the way all learning is taking place for the sake of branding, it is a step too far.

There is a need to assess exactly what the skills are of our educators of varied ages who have come from various backgrounds and experiences in order to provide what each individual needs in PD. There is a need for every school to examine what their school culture is, in order to align it with what they want it to be. There is a need to define what a 21st Century educator is in order to move a majority of educators out of their 20th Century mindset.

When someone is painting a picture of his or her contribution to the learning of his or her students, it should be limited to that alone. Teachers and administrators should not imply and we should not assume that their snapshots of their classes or projects are the feature film of the entire school’s learning environment. Their accomplishments and those of their students however should be a model to get schools to evolve to a place and time where it is representative of the entire school’s learning environment.

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Two of the most common excuses for not doing something new in education are time and money. They are probably the same excuses for not making change in any profession. People seem to understand and accept these excuses because they themselves use them whenever needed. These excuses are used so often for so many things, that they have come to mean, “I really don’t care to change the status quo, and it is too much trouble for me to do so”.

Many educators through the centuries have observed and commented that the teaching profession is an isolated profession. Many educators, then and now, feel alone in their efforts to educate kids. They often reflect on their efforts, accomplishments, and failures, without the ability to share with a variety of others within their circles in order to improve. Educators were limited to their buildings for collaboration, which occasionally might widen out to include other educators in their district, but that was often less likely to occur. Of course collaboration on a greater scale would take both time and money, and that has rarely been a priority in most schools.

Collaborative learning has always been with us from the beginning of learning, however, it required that the learners occupied the same space at the same time. In a modern world, where people tend to spread out and separate, the boundaries of collaboration, time and space, began to impede professional collaborative learning for educators. It required effort, time and money to get people together for substantive collaboration. Professional organizations stepped up to fill the collaborative void with annual conferences, but these conferences cost money and took away precious time to attend. Budgets were created to support administrators’ attendance, but teachers were more problematic becoming less of a priority to attend. Conferences, dependent on vendor support, soon recognized the benefit of administrator attendance, since administrators were the movers and shakers of the purse strings of schools. The result of all this supported a proportionally greater number of administrators over teachers’ attendance at collaborative conferences. The collaboration among teachers was limited.

It has often been said that if you fill a room with very smart people, the smartest mind is the room itself. We all benefit through collaboration. We each help define, refine, challenge, and support ideas collectively until we settle on a final idea. We all contribute to that process to some degree.

Collaboration is also a preferred method of learning for adults. We are studying adult learning more and finding a difference between adult learning, Andragogy, and child learning, Pedagogy. Since educators are child experts, many wrongly assume that all individuals learn according to pedagogy. Adults however are motivated differently with different needs. Collaboration and problem solving suit adult learning best. This misconception forcing pedagogy on adult learning has had a profound effect on how we handle PD as discussed in a previous post, The Importance of Andragogy in Education. I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

The real game-changer for collaborative learning is technology. With the introduction of social media applications, we have the ability to connect with anyone at anytime. The cost is minimal and the time is adjustable. Time and money excuses no longer serve the status quo when it comes to collaboration. What that means in terms of education is that educators are only isolated by choice. As I have said in the past, any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, but they don’t have the right to drag students in there with them.

Connecting for collegial sourcing is becoming a standard for educators. Educators in greater numbers are connecting to build Personal Learning Networks through technology. What was once a method of the tech-savvy educators is now becoming a staple of the profession. Of course when the objections of resistance are answered, objectors will come up with new objections to stave off their involvement. Many teachers now say, I am doing well enough with my kids, I don’t need to make connections.” Those teachers will need to live with that decision, for they may never get beyond “well enough” with their students. Imagine telling parents that you will teach their kids well enough?

Of course we know the biggest obstacle to change is leaving that place we all love to reside in, the “comfort zone”. Educators do not have that as an option as professionals. As professionals, we deal in content and fact. Technology is changing both at a rate never before experienced. If we do not keep up with these changes we become irrelevant. What can an irrelevant educator accomplish? Most importantly, an educator’s comfort zone must never take precedence over a student’s education.

The latest and greatest excuse is that face-to-face connections are the best. Connecting down the hallway is better than connecting around the world. I do not entirely disagree with that. If the connection with a person down the hall works then use it. My question is why would anyone interested in learning limit his or her collaboration to only his or her own building? As good as any building’s staff may be, why would one not want to expand collaboration and share with the world. Remember that collaboration works two ways. It is not always what you can get. It is also about what you can give. I believe as educators we all have a moral imperative to share.
Technology provides the means to collaborate on a scale never before available. It requires some effort on the part of educators to happen. It requires a mindset that our 20th Century education has never prepared us for. Connectedness becomes a way of life for an educator, but this does not happen overnight. We need to take it one step at a time, as we need it. We can now take control of our own learning. None of this will happen however, unless that first step is taken. If you don’t know or can’t decide on a first step, talk it over with someone. It’s collaborative learning. By choosing not to engage in order to be connected, educators today make a conscious choice to be isolated. Yes, Isolation is a choice. It is not the choice of a Life Long Learner. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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We are often bombarded with many posts and articles about the successes and failures of technology in education. Too often these assessments are based upon the technology as if it were the only factor having any effect on the students in the classroom. Of course this overlooks something that has been pounded into educators’ heads for years: The greatest influence on students in the classroom is the teacher. That holds true with or without technology in the classroom.

The environment for learning is created in the classroom by the teacher. The teacher determines the tools selected for learning in the classroom. The teacher determines how much time each subject gets and what should be emphasized over something else. Yes, there are restraints and mandates placed on every teacher by administration, but the majority of the individual learning environments that directly affect students, are environments made by classroom teachers. Whenever I read an article, or post, pointing out the failures of technology in the classroom, my first question is: How well was that teacher trained in the use of that technology and its new methodology in the classroom? My second thought is: was that technology mandated to be there without teacher buy-in, or support? Without both of those requirements being met, coupled with what we know of the teacher’s impact on students in the class, how could technology ever be successful?

Adding technology into a curriculum is not a passive exercise. It requires a teacher to not only understand the basics of the tech, but an understanding of whatever new pedagogies and methodologies accompany that tech. Using technology in the classroom is more than just going from a number 2 pencil to a ball point pen.

I have had too many discussions with adjunct professors/teachers who have just been thrown online to teach courses that they have only taught in the classroom for years, because that is now the direction colleges/schools are being directed to go. Little thought on the part of these colleges/schools has gone into what it means to teach online. What methodologies need to be refined or changed? What training a professor/teacher needs in the use of new and devolving technology seems to be an afterthought if a thought at all. Teaching online seems to be a politician’s choice of solution to getting a bigger bang for the tax-generated buck. Many politicians are legislating requirements to teach online with no support for the teacher training needed to support a successful program. There is always the “They’ll-figure-it-out mentality” that seems to drive most change in education. It’s a cheaper, more sellable solution to the problem, but a digital worksheet is still a worksheet. We need to teach using methodologies of the 21st Century to take our best shot with 21st Century tools for learning, collaboration, curation, communication, and creation.

We need to be more critical of the studies that we see on the use of technology in classrooms. We need to ask if and how the teachers were trained in that technology and all it entails. We need to examine the mindset of those educators as well. Are they supportive of tech in the classroom, or do they view it as an added burden that they were never prepared for. Not every educator is prepared to accept technology as a tool for learning. These attitudes have profound effects on results.

Teaching is complicated. It might be argued that teaching is more of an art than a science. Complicated tasks are not easily assessed. With so many variables for success in education, how do we get it right? We cannot accurately assess the effect of technology in the classroom without considering the teacher responsible for implementing and using that technology. We need to consider implementation, training, and support, as well as ongoing professional development of staff as the technology evolves, changes, or is replaced. All of these are factors we need to consider and evaluate, if we are to truly determine the effect technology is having on learning. If we are serious about better educating our kids, then we better get more serious about educating their educators.

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Over the many years that I have been in education and around educators, I have never been able to understand why so many educators, so willingly and publicly, argue for their limitations. Why do they insist, as educators, on stating aloud, “ I don’t get technology and I am not going to start now”?

I taught many in-service courses to educators that required computer use. On many, many occasions educators sitting at their computers would say, “I can’t do this”. My response was simple but crude; I would turn off the computer of the person who had made that statement. After protestations about my action, I would explain that they had convinced me by their statements and attitude that they could not do the assigned task using the computer. I simply accepted their argument about their lack of ability to learn through technology. That was when the light bulb floating magically over their heads would light up. Actively trying and overcoming failures was the key to accomplishing the goal. They most often renewed their efforts after rebooting their computer.

Learning with or about technology for those who have not grown up with technology is an uncomfortable thing to do. It forces people to make mistakes and adjustments in order to learn. The idea of an educator making a mistake in regard to either teaching or in their own content area was something that could not be accepted according to most teacher preparation programs of the 20th century. That may be why so many people openly claim to be unable to “get it” when it comes to technology, rather than to bravely face the demons of discomfort.

Technology and tides stop for no man/woman. Technology that affects almost everything we do today is not going away. It will continue to evolve at even faster rates and have an even greater effect on the speed at which change takes place.

Educators today in addition to everything else they need to know must be digitally literate, because in the world in which their students will live, digital literacy will be essential to survive and more hopefully thrive.

A digitally literate educator is a relevant educator. Educators who are not digitally literate are not bad people. They may also be good teachers. However they may not be providing everything their students will need to meet their personal learning goals for their technology-driven world.

Educators do not need to argue for their limitations. There is no limit to the number of people, who for their own reasons, will do that for them, whether it is true or not. Ironically, politicians with their own multitude of shortcomings probably head that list of finger-pointers. Educators need to be aware of how the world has changed from the 20th century that has heavily influenced so many of our educators. Technology’s integration into learning is no longer a choice that educators have to make. Technology is with us to stay. As uncomfortable as it is, educators need to step up and stop making excuses for their digital illiteracy. Schools need to support professional development to get all educators up to speed on what they need to know. It will be an ongoing need since technology will continue to evolve. If we expect to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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