Teachers take on technology

Listen to classroom teachers, particularly those who are already using (or trying to use) various technologies in creative and effective ways. Let them advise about not only what to purchase, but how to share the use of those tools with other teachers.

Technologies have always been part of children’s education (pencil, pen, abacus, computer, hand-held mobile devices), and learning to handle them proficiently is not optional but pre-requisite. Internet and social-media training should already be an integral part of the English/Language Arts curriculum, just as skills such as how to use a card catalog or write a business letter were in times past.

It’s easy to be lulled into the urban myth that everyone under 30 is thoroughly tech savvy, but that’s an unfortunate stereotype. Our children need to learn how to use various technologies as part of their learning experiences; and their teachers need to be constantly growing in that same knowledge.

It’s even easier to waste huge amounts of money on technology in schools purchasing the wrong equipment, not having proper infrastructure in place (from fiber optics to the right outlets), failing to provide timely and effective training for teachers, and dozens of other under-informed decisions. For example, an extremely poor rural school district here in Mississippi was able to get a grant to set up a state of the art iMac lab. Problem: No one in the building knew how to use them, and time and money for training had not been included in the grant.

The best way to avoid most of these costly errors is to listen to classroom teachers, particularly those who are already using (or trying to use) various technologies in creative and effective ways. Let them advise about not only what to purchase, but how to share the use of those tools with other teachers. And again, contrary to myth, many of the classroom experts at integrating technology into teaching are not all newer teachers; some of the best have been doing this for years, while waiting for policymakers and district IT support to come up to speed. Teacherpreneurs such as Bill Ferriter, Vicki Davis, Jennifer Barnett, and hundreds of others are not only showing us the future of teaching and learning, but very deliberately sharing that knowledge.

Such horizontal distribution of pedagogical knowledge is itself a trend of the future of education. In Teaching 2030, I and eleven other members of the Teacher Leader Network, along with Dr. Barnett Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality, present our expectation of the future of the teaching profession and public education in the U.S. Among our predictions: “By 2030, professional training for teachers will routinely include how to work in multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs), helping students engage in open-ended, collaborative inquiry and using their virtual work products to assess academic progress” (67). My colleague at Teacher Leaders Network, Bill Ferriter correctly observes:

“We’re still stuck on the notion that we can—and should—control what it is that students are learning.  At the same time that more flexible, individualized learning is possible (and is happening all the time away from schools), we’re tightly scripting curricula and standardizing assessment.  It’s difficult to truly imagine a system that tightly controls everything we do in schools being able to produce the kinds of innovative, creative problem solvers that the 21st Century workforce requires.”

Forward thinking needs to guide our school technology decisions, including funding. Thinking not tied to 19th or even 20th century notions of how and what to teach, but rather committed to creating learning environments for ALL children that will prepare them for the world to come.

Cross-posted at The National Journal.com Education Experts