Learning from the Met: Teachers as digital learners

Every year, MetLife churns out an impressive report titled Survey of the American Teacher.  Based on one-to-one interviews with 1,000 classroom teachers, 1,000 students and 500 principals, this year’s survey—released yesterday and available online here—“documents current attitudes, examines trends and considers future implications” influencing teaching and learning in the American classroom.

For the first time, this year’s survey looks closely at how teachers are using digital media to build relationships and communicate with professionals beyond their own buildings.  Noting that teachers and principals have long believed that technology can enhance teaching, the Met wanted to know exactly how educators were using technology to support their own learning.






by  drunkprincess 

The results of the survey, however, were not terribly surprising:  Teachers just plain haven’t embraced digital forums for personal growth.

To be specific, less than one out of every three teachers (28%) report having read or written a blog about teaching even as blogs become an increasingly common forum for conversation and resource sharing between experts in every field.  Making matters worse, less than two in ten (15%) teachers have participated in online communities or social networking sites like Tapped In, Ning or Facebook.

While principal responses to the same questions were—surprisingly—higher, less than half of our leaders (42%) are reading and learning from blogs and less than one quarter (22%) are participants in online communities.

While I can understand the conflict that American teachers feel about these tools—-we talk about how important it is to find ways to learn with technology while districts ban any kind of communication between teachers and students in social networking forums and suspend teachers for poor judgment in their personal communication—-these kinds of trends should concern everyone who cares about education.

Here’s why:

Because our students have embraced digital forums:  I’ve always been taught that responsible educators try to tailor learning experiences that align with the interests and motivations of their audiences simply because increased levels of motivation most often result in increased levels of learning.  If that’s true, then digital forums for communication and growth simply must begin to find a home in the American classroom.

Consider these numbers, culled from the 2007 report Teens and Social Media:  59% of students between the age of 12 and 17 are sharing artistic creations online, creating videos, making webpages, maintaining blogs and remixing content that they find online.  What’s more, 55% of students between the age of 12 and 17 have created profile pages on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, and 47% have posted images on photo-sharing sites where others can see them.

And that data is almost 16 months old!  I suspect that the percentages of students using digital tools for networking, learning and communication has only increased since the Pew Internet and American Life project published these findings in December of 2007.

So essentially, American teachers know little to nothing about the tools that their students have embraced—-which means that the American classroom is a disconnected place for our kids.

What kind of impact do you think this has on achievement?

Because networked learning is always more efficient and powerfulIn a recent postwhere he struggled with the definition of the word “teacher,” Dean Shareski shared this graphic:






As always, Dean’s on to something, here.

While his image originally defined his view of accomplished teachers, I’d argue that it equally describes any accomplished learner in today’s world.  There is simply too much content for any one person to be “talented” enough to understand it all—-or to find the kind of meaningful challenge in their local community to promote exponential growth.  Instead, efficient learning depends on building a network of co-learners who can provide guidance, support and just-in-time resources for continued study.

What does this look like in action?

For me, it’s the ability to instantly follow the thinking of like-minded peers in Twitter and to have ongoing conversations on topics of importance using Voicethread.  It’s using Pageflakes to organize a collection of bloggers that spark my thinking on a daily basis and to organize information that my students are studying in class.  It’s jumping into conversations in the comment sections of blog entries that push my buttons and joining social networks with colleagues tackling similar concepts with their kids.

Each of these opportunities has made me a more efficient learner because I know that I can turn to my network at any time for instant access to the kinds of information that will improve who I am as a thinker and a doer in the classroom.  I never struggle to find a conversation or to get support because I’ve got connections—-and those connections are supported by digital tools.

Isn’t this the kind of efficient learning that everyone will need in order to be successful in a world where content multiplies exponentially each year?  And if so, who is going to show our students how to build connections if less than a third of teachers see the value in using digital tools for their own learning?

Every time that I read statistics like those shared in this year’s MetLife survey, I keep coming back to the central question that Karl Fisch asked a few years back:

Is it alright to be a technologically illiterate teacher?

My answer would be a resounding no.

The digitally illiterate are nothing more than jailers, limiting access to powerful forums for learning and separating students from the kinds of tools and experiences that they’ve learned to love. Our schools will continue to fail students until we see teachers embrace digital opportunities for their own learning and growth—-and then begin to pass that knowledge on to their pupils.


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