Monday, October 22, 2012

Rethinking and Redefining Roles

One of the highlights of the ISTE Conference in San Diego last summer was going to Will Richardson's presentation on Unlearning.  I was really pleased, therefore, when I was given the book last week Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, to see that Will has written the Foreword to that book.  The amazing thing for me to read was that by the end of the decade it is predicted that 5 billion people will be connected through smart phones, tablets, laptops and whatever else may be developed between now and then.  That's absolutely incredible to me.  Twenty years ago nobody was connected:  from that to 5 billion in less than 30 years is mind-blowing.

So what does this mean to schools?  Well thankfully there are many educators who understand the importance of preparing the next generation for their connected future.  Others don't seem to see the urgency.  And as Clay Shirky points out, many educational institutions "try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."  I really don't know how long they can continue sticking their heads in the sand!  Last week in Independent Studies our Librarian and myself were talking to 3rd Graders about how the problems they are facing in pursuing their interests are completely the opposite of what ours were at their ages.  If we wanted to find something out we could go to the local library - maybe there would be a book there that would answer our question, maybe not.  Nowadays students can find the answer to almost anything they want to know - though they have to know what is a sensible question to actually ask. For example today I had to steer a student away from inquiring into what Alien babies are like and into questions about the possibilities of life on other planets.  The problem our students face is not that it's hard to find the information - for all I know there may actually be a website out there about Alien babies - but that there is just so much information that it's hard for them to know what is actually good information as compared with what is simply rubbish.  As a result our roles as teachers are shifting - Will Richardson describes this in the following way:  "In no small way, this shift is going to require us to rethink and redefine the roles of schools and classrooms - and our roles as teachers - in students' lives.  And at the center of that rethink will be technology."

I was an IT teacher for 12 years.  In that time I saw my role change tremendously.  I moved from teaching students who came to the IT lab once a week and who saved their work on a school server, to a BYOD programme where students use their own computers in all their lessons and where their work is stored almost entirely in the cloud.  I moved from a time when collaboration involved working with the person sitting next to you, or perhaps having to have 2 people share a computer to create something.  Today our students are collaborating with their peers, quite literally half a world away.  For example today in our Kindergarten Tech Meeting we were talking about communicating with other Kindergarten students in Japan, Thailand and the Netherlands as we work on a collaborative project using VoiceThread.  Above all technology has ceased to be a "lesson" and I have stopped being a tech teacher - the homeroom teachers and specialists use the technology as they see fit and my job is to work with the teachers to plan for student learning.  At my current school we often refer to technology as being in our DNA - it's quite simply a part of what we do, how we teach, how we learn.

Over the 12 years that I was an IT teacher I worked in three schools that embraced the changes that technology could bring and one that did not.  In the latter school I had to deal with administrators who wanted to lock down the entire system, were skeptical of any new initiatives, dismissed the impact that technology could have on learning, introduced a one-size-fits-all approach with IWBs (introducing them even after all the evidence showed that there were much better technologies that could impact learning), and brought in a visiting speaker whose main message seemed to be that using technology would make you sad and lonely.  Studies over that 12 year period however pointed in completely the opposite direction:  that integrating appropriate technology into classrooms could move them from teacher-dominated to student-centred, that it could lead to students working more cooperatively, making better choices and playing a more active role in their learning.  Above all, numerous studies have shown how technology can allow teachers to differentiate instruction more efficiently and reach students with different learning styles.

I truly believe that students following their passions and their curiosities, learning independently with the guidance of their teachers, is going to be the future of education.  The content itself is not really that important, though the outcomes are.  My role is to work with students wherever they are and to teach them to be information literate.  It is to help teachers to find answers to questions and to help find resources to support instruction.   It is to design and present professional development to teachers and to parents so that they can "keep up" with their kids.  It is to try out new things and be creative in working around obstacles.  It is to constantly learn about new idea and strategies.  It is to be a lifelong learner myself and to model this for my students and teachers.

Image credit:  Rethink by Depone 2008 AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

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