Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!
Arthur C. Clarke (1980)
Why is it that there’s still such heated berate concerning the use of computers, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets in schools? Those who know how to use such gadgets point out dozens of advantages and benefits for enabling learning. On the other hand, those who are resistant to adopting them in the classroom seem to fear the total chaos that these gadgets may instill in our classrooms. Yet, there seems to be a trend that favors the use of technology more and more in our classes. I like to think that the only reason why we debate so much about the use or lack of use of modern technology in classes is the fact that we’re living a time of change. The way we relate to others is changing, which makes it much harder to adapt. The thing is, in the near future, what is today called modern technology will be so omnipresent in our lives that there’ll be no point in arguing anymore whether we should use it or not.
Take tablets, for example. When the day comes that owning a tablet is so common as owning a (paper) notebook, it’ll be absolutely pointless to question whether or not they should be allowed in classes. If it ever gets to the point in which it is what students use to take notes, how are we going to prohibit their use in classrooms? There was a time when teachers debated the use of calculators in math tests. Even though I’m not a math teacher, I really don’t think that this has made students less capable of thinking on their own. If the questions are right, students will use the calculator simply to do the math. The calculator cannot think and solve problems for students. Nowadays, as far as I know, students are given a calculator together with their university entrance examination. Whether or not students are as capable of adding or subtracting as their grandparents is a whole different ballgame, and something that has to be addressed from a different perspective. As long as calculators allow for questions that require a higher order of thinking, I’m in favor of them. If teachers just want to ask what 2 + 2 equals to, that’s a problem with the question, not with the tool.
Debates regarding the use of new gadgets in education will come and go. Nevertheless, talking about it these days is likely to be a lot more appealing for we have been debating about gadgets that are a lot more prevalent in our lives than gadgets in the past. Another reason might be the amount of advertisement and money that is invested by the industry behind these gadgets. It’s a lot easier for us to have access to success cases, and if we’re not willing to do the research on our own, failures may as well be hidden or attributed to any other reason than the use of the gadget in itself. Regardless of the reason, technology in education has certainly gained momentum. Have we reached the tipping point? Are we risking missing the point?
How can we gauge the effective use of computers in our classes? How do we, as teachers, make sure that the tail is not wagging the dog? How do we make sure we ourselves are not being blown away by the wowing effect that new advances have in our lives? At the risk of sounding trite, I don’t think it should be that hard. I’ve had a computer in my hands ever since I was 6 (or maybe even younger than that) and I am keen on keeping abreast with new technology. Perhaps if I weren’t a teacher, I’d be a computer analyst. Yet, I’ve passed the stage in which I let the “WOW” moments beat the “OH” moments in my lessons. I do prefer “Oh” moments to “Wow” moments. I see teaching as helping others learn. A “wow” moment is the moment in which kids are amazed by what you’ve shown them. An “Oh” moment is the moment when something finally hits you – it’s the time in which you’ve finally understood a point. Teaching is far more than transference of knowledge, and any teacher who fails to see that will end up replaced by computers. Computers wow us all the time; teachers should help students “get it”.
For anything that you use in class, there’s a simple question you may ask yourself to help you see whether you’re missing the point or not: Does my teaching highlight the tools I’m using, or do the tools I’m using highlight my teaching? Always aim for the latter. Anything you choose to use in your lessons should be used to highlight your teaching, not the other way around. If the comment you hear is that your lessons are good because you always show students cool and funny videos, or if they like your lessons because you get them to use Facebook, Twitter, blogs and what have you in class, it’s time you asked them WHAT they’ve actually learned. Technology can help teaching for learning, but if it’s misused it’ll do way more harm than good. If there are too many “wows” in your classes, make sure they are not getting in the way of the “oh, now I see” that teachers should be aiming for.
This post has been cooking for a while now – a long while, to be honest – as I haven’t exactly had the proper state of mind to write recently. However, as I’ve just finished reading Brad’s post on the matter, I decided to finally revisit my thoughts and give it a go. Perhaps something good will come out of it, or maybe it’ll turn out to be good for me to get back in shape. I’m well aware it’s different from my other posts, but I do hope you’ll enjoy it!
Once upon a time, there was this puppeteer who had a show with two puppets – Lenny and Teri. The story he told was something like this… Lenny and Teri, as the story goes, have always been close to one another. Lenny had always seen in Teri someone who would always be there for him, giving him proper feedback, support, guidance and pushing Lenny to his full potential. Teri cared about Lenny, and wanted him to thrive. However, it seems that, after a long standing relationship, these two old friends started to fall apart. In the beginning, Teri saw herself as being more important than Lenny – she believed to be a lot more mature than Lenny. Teri was responsible for telling Lenny what to do and where to go. Lenny, however, grew up and decided it was hight time he started walking on his own feet. To make matters worse, Teri got sick and tired of her position as the sole provider of knowledge and experiences for Lenny, as if it were pouring liquid in an empty vessel, and of getting very little recognition for doing so. Needless to say, the relationship went sour and a gulf of differences quickly presented itself between these two ol’ pals. Could there ever be a happy ending to these two in the future?
Along came a third puppet, Beth, and Lenny quickly started flirting with her. Beth was a lot brisker than Teri had grown into and she presented to Lenny myriad possibilities for self-improvement – Beth wouldn’t dare telling Lenny what to do, she told him that he’d have to find it out on his own. Not surprisingly, Lenny found out there were many things he could do by himself. Teri, for a while, tried hard to fight back and prevent Beth from ever stepping into the classroom – it was a moment for Teri and Lenny alone. Teri still had, rooted deep down, the hope to win Lenny’s heart back again – Beth was just a fling. Little did Teri know of the power and influence that Beth had over Lenny. Beth was not only looking for a place in the classroom to sit next to Lenny, she was looking for a place next to Lenny – period! Beth couldn’t understand Teri’s hatred towards her. “One day, Teri will see that I’m not trying to take over her place, just help her with Lenny.”
Thus was so for a while. On ever fewer occasions, Teri still managed to have her moments with Lenny in ways that Beth could only dream of – it was bonding at its best. Teri was learning to listen to Lenny, and Lenny once again felt as if he mattered to Teri, and that he could contribute more than simply memorizing whatever it was that Teri forced down his throat. Ah, but Beth was not going to give up, and decided that the best way to help Lenny was by spending some time with Teri outside the classroom. Little by little, they became friends and Teri started wondering whether her decision of not allowing Beth in the classroom was right. Up until then, Teri saw Beth as a threat, a menace to be avoided at all costs – it was something that would interfere in the long-standing relationship between Teri and Lenny.
Beth, however, played her hand beautifully. She finally managed to show Teri that she was not trying to take her place; Beth was simply trying to help Teri win Lenny’s heart back. Teri, however, took so long to finally see it, that now that they’ve all come to terms with each other Teri is having a hard time trying to let go of old habits. From time to time, Teri still has her moments of rampant rage and kicks Beth out of the classroom when Lenny starts paying more attention to Beth than to her. Beth has also come a long way and has now understood what was happening when she came on stage. It’s now time for our three friends, Beth, Teri, and Lenny, or should I say, Tech, Teaching, and Learning, to learn that they can be together if they learn how to work together towards the same aim. And so let’s hope for the best, Let’s hope that Technology (Beth) is able to help in the relationship between Teaching (Teri) and Learning (Lenny). The good part of the story is that it’s all up to us, the puppeteers, to learn when we should bring those three onstage at the same time, and when one of them ought to leave the scene and let the others shine. Are we capable of making this choice?
In a world in which we are spoilt for choice, we’ve got to learn how to think on our feet if we want to become successful puppeteers. The difference, however, is that our puppets have a life of their own – we can merely choose what we’re going to give them to play with and hope for the best. If we want them to have a happy ending, we can only choose the props, and never forget they write the plot on their own.
I’ve recently had the chance to read and analyse a text with some of my college students that got me thinking. Actually, ever since I heard about the idea of digital-natives and all that goes with the idea of digital-literacy and the changes in education, I’ve been thinking about this topic (you can see what I think about it on this post). The text is called “The Saber-tooth curriculum“, it was written in 1939, but just as the title of this post (which was taken from the text), it remains, in some ways, timelessness.
It is the story of an educator and the very first school curriculum there was. It all started with the idea of creating schools, and teaching children some skills tha were necessary in the lives of adults at that time. There were only three subjects, and I guess we can allude to Dickens’s Mr. Gradgrind and its utilitarianism upon a first glance at the text. If you allow me to do some analogy here, the eternal question, “Why do children go to school?” has always been answered by, “To learn the things they’ll need to know in order have a successful life in the society they’re inserted in.” Maybe you don’t even agree with this answer, and I myself have some reservations, but I consider it quite a satisfactory answer to why schools have been created and why they are organised the way they are these days.
What I’ve been pondering, though, is whether we’re going in the right direction with all the pressure towards digital-literacy and the way it’s being done. Most of the things that are quite popular these days have just yet been invented; many of the things that didn’t exist in Y2K have already been created, used, and dropped ever since. We’re witnessing a time of change that is as swift as it’s ever been. Is it really our goal to teach our students how to use so many tools we find useful for our lives today? I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think what we have at our disposition these days is what will be around in the next couple of years.
It is my opinion that technology will soon be ubiquitous. It will simply be, and most computer companies are working as hard as they can to make sure computers are as user-friendly as possible. I remember I had to learn how to use Basic in order to create my own software when I was really young (10, 20, 30… who remembers the command lines?), and later DOS (what was it that we had to type, anyway? Cd/? Dir /p?). Then we had windows, and life was a lot easier with the pointing with a mouse and clicking. Even those who didn’t think too much of computers started using it. Let’s face it, the computer industry had their way. As an industry, they wanted to sell more and more computers. As long as computers were complicated to use, not many people would be willing to learn how to use them.
Changes have been happening at an ever-faster pace – just think about how long it took you to go from a touchpad to a multi-touch screen device. If we try to teach our learners how to use whatever it is they have at hand, we’re just trying to catch up with something that will always be ahead of us, and when children finally finish school, they’re likely to have to learn new things over and over again.
This is exactly what makes me wonder whether we can only prepare children for the future if we teach them how to use tech, or if we have technology available in our classrooms. I honestly don’t think it’s a matter of “only if”, but a matter of “regardless of”. Children have got to be prepared to face a world that is entirely different from the world we once knew and that was presented to us when we were children. This is the main challenge teachers ought to face.
More and more often I hear teachers and employers complaining about the fact the new generation of students and workers do not go beyond what they are taught. They can be trained, but they seriously lack any kind of autonomy and independence to face even the slightest challenging of the tasks. A lot is said about fostering autonomy and independence in education, that this is the ultimate goal of education. Are we running the risk of creating another generation of educators who, similarly to many English language teachers, are nothing but repeating a mantra without actually knowing how to do as they say? I’ve had the chance to interview my share of English teachers who seem to parrot, “I use the communicative approach in my classes, obviously!” However, upon being questioned what the communicative approach is, their answers vary (as they have) from merely talking to students to focussing on grammar (??).
We sure need to foster autonomy, and learners have got to be prepared to face the many different things they’ll have to deal with in life. If we think that by teaching them how to use today’s technology is going to help them, we’d better think twice. They’ll use technology because it’s getting easier and easier. It’s soon to be ubiquitous, as I said before. But I’m pretty much sure that the technology they’ll have to use in 5-10 years’ time is going to be far different from anything we may be able to teach them today. We go back to the fundamental question that teachers should always ask themselves before each and every class: Why am I doing what I’m doing in class today?
Learners will be trained in their future jobs, and they will have to know how to learn. This, in my opinion, is what we should be doing. We should be teaching our students how to learn, not teaching them how to use technology because it allows them to communicate with the whole world and gives them a real audience. Speaking to the world is a natural consequence, something that is unavoidable; we need to teach them how to collaborate and work together with their peers, those people who are sitting next to them in the same classroom. What we need to do is teach them the basic skills that will allow them to function in any other setting they may be inserted into. Autonomy is also taught little by little, and we’re only truly autonomous after we’ve achieved a certain level of mastery in whatever it is we’re learning.
Why do we have schools? Why do we teach? We teach because we want to see our children able to thrive in life, regardless of what they face. It doesn’t matter how skilled students are. If they do not learn how to talk to people, how to make and take criticism, how to read, understand, and draw conclusions from what they’re reading, they’ll not succeed. These are the fundamental skills that will trigger the whole system into motion. In a way, it’s a bit like going back to the “bare essentials”. Instead of trying to embrace the world, focus harder on the little things – the big things will take care of themselves.
What’s your take on that?
The very first time I heard of #edchat, I thought it was the craziest idea ever. How could we possibly have a conversation trying to convey our message using only 132 (don’t forget the hashtag) characters? Well, not only did I find it possible, but I also started participating in more and more #edchat sessions. The idea of #edchat was so good and effective, that lots of other educational chats on twitter either: a) followed; or b) came to my knowledge. I don’t really know if #edchat was the precursor of all the educational tweet chats out there, and, to be honest, I couldn’t care less(sorry, but “I could care less” makes no sense, especially after watching the video below).
The latest educational chat I came across on twitter is #ELTchat. This past Wednesday, close to lunch time in Brazil, we were discussing whether or not online teaching would ever replace face to face instruction. Truth be told, I am of the opinion that we’re headed towards a blended system for many different reasons. Anyhow, the discussion went on to the idea of integrating technology in our current teaching practice. One of the many beauties of these chats is that you get to throw ideas at other educators who are willing to read and comment on your thoughts, so here’s a brief exchange of tweets I had when talking about this matter:
I truly do believe in that. If we listen to all tech gurus and experts we only hear them saying that, in the (relatively near) future, our children will find keyboards and mouses as archaic and will have a hard time conceiving such a barbaric interaction with gadgets. To my mind, this means technology will be a lot more accessible AND a lot more necessary for men. This tweet was followed by a couple of replies, and I’ll highlight here one of them, from Olaf Elch:
Granted! I might have been extremely hopeful to say that technology will soon be ubiquitous, and that it will soon be considered useless for people to discuss technology integrated with technology. “Hold on, Henrick! I don’t quite follow. What do you really mean, then?”
Well, I just mean that I do believe that technology will be everywhere, but, come to think of it:
Isn’t it funny that there are so many educators out there who believe our educational system is no longer useful to the way our society is currently organised, but still so little is done in practical terms? Why is it that when we discuss with people about the changes that should be made in education, they all agree, but they all seem to be afraid to let such change start with their own kids?
There’s a gulf between agreeing with something and actually taking steps to implement such things – and this seems to be particularly true for education. Regardless of how much our society values its teachers, it’s common knowledge that education is the most valuable resource you can give to your children. It’s also well known that knowledge opens doors and educated people have better chances to succeed in life. So why is it so difficult for people to understand that there are so many educators – serious educators – who have only our children’s best interest at heart and who are willing to take education to the next level and better prepare our kids to live their lives?
When it’s their child’s future at stake, parents seem to be the most conservative possible and not willing to take risks. Apparently, going with the unknown, the experimental, might mean jeopardising the entire future of their children – and which parent would willingly do that? I don’t think we take so lang to change education because we don’t want to. I think it’ll always take so long to reform or revolutionise education because many of the interested parts are too concerned and afraid to take the first step. Will this fear ever be gone? Unlikely, unfortunately. This is why we are likely to always see serious educators complaining about how dated the educational system is, and why schools might always be the last institutions to evolve.
I’ve never been a big fan of the term “Digital Natives” that had been coined by Marc Prensky (as far as I know). Truth be told, I had never even been drawn to reading his stuff as it had absolutely no appeal to me. However, there comes a time in which you’ve got to read what everyone has been reading, even if it’s just to disagree, but now you wouldn’t only disagree because ‘you don’t like it’, but maybe you’ll have lots of other reasons for not liking it – I’ve even given Twilight a chance after so many of my students talked so passionately about it. If it’s of any interest, I didn’t like it. I guess I’m much more of a fan of Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles, but I can understand why so many of my teenage students were so into it.
Yet, lots of other students actually couldn’t stand it. And even those who liked Twilight couldn’t exactly agree on certain things – there’s something called ‘team Edwards’ and ‘team Jacobs’, and I guess it’s very important that you pick sides. Just the same, lots of my teenage and pre-teen students are into computer and Internet. This seems to be their favourite past time. But hold on, they know very little about anything that’s not Orkut (way more popular than Facebook in Brazil) and MSN. Yet, not all of them are into computers that much. I’ve talked to students who said they literally loathe computers and all that’s related to them. Funny, huh?!
When I think back about my own childhood, I remember I was always interested in technology. I’ve had access to my first computer in the house a lot sooner than most of my friends. It was a TK-2000, and it was basically a more elaborate typewriter. After that, I remember we had an Apple Master Plus in the house. Boy, was that fun! I even remember I started learning how to programme on Basic. This lasted until the first IBM-PC arrived. And with it, lots of games – I clearly remember when I played Prince of Persia for the very first time. Along came ‘The secret of Monkey Island’, ‘The day of the tentacle’, ‘Doom’, ‘Quake’, ‘Civilization’ and many others. I was also one of the first students in my class (should I say my school?) to have an email account – 1994. And who still remember those BBSs? Finally, I still remember using ‘Webcrawler’ instead of ‘Google’ to browse the web. I guess I can say for sure I grew up surrounded by technology.
OK, the big question is: so what? Apart from growing old without fearing computers, I don’t think it’s changed me a lot. I’ll admit that it’s come in handy more often than not, and even though I’m no expert, I can usually find my way around a computer and the Internet easily. And I find it really surprising when I talk to my students about very simple things on the Internet and many reply that their parents know a lot more than they do about computers. Perhaps it’s just because many of the gadgets still aren’t exactly affordable in Brazil – an iPhone 4 32GB would cost something close to U$ 1700,00 (at Mercado Livre, a Brazilian eBay) and an iPad 64 Gb with 3G and Wi-fi costs U$ 1650,00 on the same site. However, most, if not all, of my students have got at least one computer at home, and lots of them have got their own laptops. How come they haven’t been teaching me lots of new tricks? However, this is not even the point of this post.
Even though there are teenagers and pre-teens who spend their free-time online, there are lots of others who’d rather go outside and play football with their friends. Others would rather read a book, and others are much happier in front of the TV instead of in front of a computer screen. A lot has been discussed also in terms of learners differences and how to best cater for each one of these learners so that we bring out the best in them. Why should we value just one skill? Why should we simply categorise an entire generation as the digital natives and forget that these are people who come in all sizes, shapes and, yes, interests. If we simply put them all in the same category, how different is that from what we’ve been doing for decades in our current educational system? Sir Ken Robinson once said that our educational system aims at raising individuals bearing in mind only their intellectual value, and increasingly to one side only. We are trying to create more and more scholars, and if our kids are not cut out for it, they’ll even be given medicine to see whether or not they’ll be able to fit it. And all this is done by those who claim to have their children’s best interest at heart.
No matter how much I believe that technology has got to offer to education – and I do think it’s a very powerful tool in education – I just can’t label students, or people, according to the age they’ve been born and assume one size fits all. Digital natives, digital immigrants… the fact that we live in a world which is a lot more digital than the world of yore doesn’t mean we should label our children and ourselves. Everyone is capable of learning new tools as long as they give it a try, and once you get it going, it only gets easier – how many grown ups of your PLN have only recently started using the Internet and are already literate in anything related to it? And the more they learn, the faster and easier it is for them to navigate in this new, digital world.
Labels are made for clothes, not for people. I can’t say all my students like Twilight, I can’t say they all enjoy playing football, and I can’t say they all like Justin Bieber, so why should I label them all digital natives or even conceive of them as tech savvy? Besides, there are still a whole bunch of people who haven’t even seen a computer in their lives. What of them? Should they just be cast aside? Shouldn’t education be inclusive? Oh, but this is for another post… I’ll leave it here. Hope you got till the end of the post!
PS: Perhaps it would also be nice to have a look at this book, even if you don’t agree with its content.
It’s always inspiring and motivating to read what others have been doing with technology in their classes. It seems that the so -called ‘digital natives’ are ready and willing to go after every single opportunity they might have to use the computer and web 2.0 to boost their learning. Most of the work that’s shared online is so good that they make my jaw drop. Students can pick and choose the tools to use and, most likely, teens are the ones who teach teachers about the tools – after all, this is their expertise. They’ve been born with a keyboard and a mouse in their hands (when will they come with touchscreen-designed fingers, I wonder?) and they spend all their time in front of the computer. This is all inspiring as I’ve been using a computer since I was 6, but it turns out to be a bit frustrating for me, I’ve got to say.
I’ve been teaching pre-teens and teens almost exclusively for the past 4 years. They range from 10 to 19 years old mainly, and the vast majority of them have more than 1 computer at home. I always start the semester by asking them to share a bit about themselves. I like listening to them and this is what will help me cater for their needs and try to make sure I can put together lessons that will be meaningful to them. Pretty much all of them tell me that they usually spend all their free time online. “Great!” I used to think to myself, but lately this hasn’t been the case. Even though they spend pretty much all of their free time online, all they do is chat with their friends on MSN and use Orkut, which is the largest social network in Brazil. Apart from that, most of them have never heard of other online tools. And this is not what I think, it is what they tell me.
Of course they all use the web to do research for school, but as long as teachers fail to adapt to the shift from encyclopaedias to the web, most students will not go beyond a quick (and very simple) Google search and “the best” invention of all: Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V. In the past students at least had to go through the trouble of copying word for word what they read. Nowadays, I’ve found myself reading compositions in which not even the hyperlinks had been removed – a clear sign to me that the person who wrote and printed out the page hadn’t even read the whole text. I still don’t get why this tech generation still insists on printing out their papers instead of using emails, wikis, blogs, Google Docs and what have you.
But wait, perhaps I do get it. The answer is fairly straightforward when I question them. “I don’t know how to use that,” is a common answer, “I have never heard of that,” is also often said, but my favourite is, “What???” Most of my 11 – 15 students dislike the idea of submitting their work online. Even after I encourage them to do so, and tell them explicitly that I’d rather receive their compositions and papers online, and give them options to choose how they’d like to do it, most still write their work by hand. I’ve already spent time with them inside and outside class talking about such tools, demonstrating their usefulness, and showing examples of successful work online. I’ve already shared with them all my enthusiasm for all that I see online – all that kids all over the world have been doing, and still, nada! Even though I won’t give up on that, I won’t give up on my beliefs as well – it’s much more important for a teacher to listen to his or her learners and adapt to suit their needs than to ask them to adapt to your likes and dislikes. Therefore, I feel it’s important to give them options, but not to push them too hard. My job is to teach them English and to educate global citizens, and tech is most definitely not the only one solution to that.
I’ve recently started a project with volunteering students on a wiki – none knew how to use it and only 1 out of 17 could relate the word to wikipedia, and, oh, none knew what a wiki was. I’m looking forward to the results of this project. However, even though they’re learning their way around a wiki, I don’t think they’ll use such tool out of free will. They use it because we chose it as the media for our project – but many would rather write something on a piece of paper and rip off the page to give to the teacher. Mind you, they’re having lots of fun with the project, but I still hold none (or very few) will make use of wikis in the future by their own accord. I truly hope I’m wrong on this one.
I’ve always been very skeptical of the idea of ‘digital natives’, ‘digital immigrants’ and etc. When I mention this to my students, they themselves laugh at this idea and most say their parents know a lot more about computers than they do. Perhaps it just happens here, but to be honest, I don’t think so (am I that unfortunate?). The games they play may change, but not the fact that they’re looking for games, fun, and talking to their friends – and we, teachers, have to struggle hard to engage and motivate them to shift that energy to learning.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as I’m planning to write some more about it.
I’ve been trying to set up an international project with my students for a long while now. I’ve always felt that they could benefit immensely from a project such as pen pals or any other exchange with students from other countries and cultures.
Recently I’ve had some nice conversations with some people from my PLN about cultural matters and I guess this is a nice topic for us to get our learners to participate in a global conversation as long as we can get them to join in. My hunch is that most learners tend to enjoy learning about certain cultural facts and enjoy hearing about the little cultural differences between countries. Who’s better to teach learners about these differences than other learners? I’m aware there are some groups already for classroom exchange on the web, so I’m aware this isn’t a unique and original idea, but my goal is to provide yet another chance for learners and teachers to collaborate and learn how to use a wiki.
The idea for the project came from lots of conversations I had with @bealup, who’s also helping me with the project, but all are welcome to participate and contribute. The more the merrier, right? I’ve just created a wiki and added a couple of suggestions of topics that would probably appeal to learners. The idea os for teachers to join in and share their own thoughts on each one of the topics so that we can have a feel of how this is going to be like for learners when we get the project going. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the wiki, such as finding the right pictures to illustrate it, come up with clear instructions, like Jim Burke did on his blogging project with students.
The idea is quite simple, as you’ll see if you visit the wiki. The aim is to have students from as many different nationalities and cultural background as possible. Teachers will have about two months to tweak the wiki before we kick off with the students. The intention is to officially start using it with students in March.
So, who wants to join?
Joseph, an English teacher, had his whole class prepared. Before walking in the class, he made sure he had all he needed with him: laptop, pendrive, websites to use in class, his PowerPoint slides (which took him ages to organise) and the DVD he was going to use with the class. Joseph was proud of himself – he was doing what has become the norm these days. He was a digital teacher. His learners, he had been told, were all digital natives, they were all born with a computer on their laps, a blog, and, lately, a twitter account. He knew he had to be prepared to face such tech genius, so he made sure he was at his best.
When Joseph walked into the classroom, all his students were ready for the lesson. The interactive whiteboard was eagerly waiting for the teacher’s input. Joseph was also aware that his role as a teacher was to let learners co-construct learning, so he made sure to include a couple of collaborative activities in his lesson, all of them would require the tech-savvy students of his to use their laptops and do online research. As soon as he walked into the classroom, the lights went off – a major power shortage. A situation which, according to the news Susan (a student) got on Twitter in her mobile, could take at least two hours to be solved. It was still early in the afternoon, and the classroom had lots of windows, which allowed for sunlight to enter the room.
All of a sudden, Joseph found himself in a tough spot. He’d learned all that was needed to teach digital learners, but now the lesson he’d so carefully prepared, couldn’t be delivered. There he was, in front of 15 teenagers who were looking at him waiting for the words to come out of his mouth. What did Joseph do?
The fictional story above pictures a teacher who relies too much on technology when walking into the classroom. But what would our fictional teacher do now? Well, I’d like to point out two possibilities:
1. Joseph simply doesn’t care much about it. Even though he was trying to integrate technology into his teaching as a way to motivate his learners, he is a resourceful teacher. As such, he knows things occasionally don’t go according to plan, and he is able to start and deliver his lesson successfully. The fact that he couldn’t do what he’d planned didn’t jeopardise his lesson as his skills as a teacher had been developed to teach him how to think on his feet. He is aware that he teaches people, and, as such, he can talk to them, and still reach them without all the pizzazz of his presentations.
2. Joseph was at a loss. He wasn’t aware of the fact that sometimes, well, things don’t go according to plan and you still have to do your job. He’d never been taught what to do in a situation where he had to think on his own. Suddenly, the lesson plan didn’t have all the answers. Joseph just sat there, looking at his students, praying that Mary and her twitter friend were wrong.
Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of meaningful use of technology or any other resource in class. If it’s meaningful, use it! What I now see as a problem is the over-reliance on certain technologies, basically coming from novice teachers or teachers who are merely reproducing everything they hear. Technology for technology’s sake is not the answer to your students’ lack of motivation. Human beings are curious by nature. Talk to them, and they respond, they react, and sometimes they overreact. This emotional response is what gets us going… but I digress.
The bottom line of Joseph’s story is that teachers don’t have to be taught simply what they can use in the classroom. Teacher, 21st century educators, need to be resourceful. They need to know when to use each tool so that they can reach their students. Teenagers are all about technology? Well, they’re all about face to face interaction as well. Just like any one of the adults who surround them, they are looking for affirmation. They are looking for someone who is going to pay attention to them as human beings as well, not only as learners. Teachers who are not resourceful can’t do this. Teachers who are resourceful, are ready to adapt and change the direction of the lesson if that’s what students need. Resourceful teachers don’t simply do what students want, but they don’t simply take the students to their final destination. Instead, they lead the way, they support, they encourage, they give feedback, and they explore different dimensions with their learners.
Resourceful teachers? Wait… I meant teachers… the problem is that there are many people working as teachers, when in fact, they aren’t.
Are you a resourceful teacher, or do you just follow what others tell you to do? Are you a teacher, or are you a “teacher”? And what about the people who work with you? What about the people you know? Are most of them teachers or “teachers”?
The first time I visited Twitter I didn’t think it was a very interesting website. I created my account, but I simply didn’t have time to update it by saying what I was doing. He who tweets about the daily grind or the trivial facts of an ordinary day has got too much time in his hands, if you ask me. In addition to that, I didn’t know many people on Twitter from my social network, which rendered it even more useless to me. Whenever I talked to someone about it, the answer was, more often than not, ‘Tweet who?’
Fortunately, I’ve decided to give Twitter a new lease of life. Twitter has turned out to be a great asset for my PLN (Personal Learning Network) and it’s helped me connect with people I’d never dream of. The idea of sharing thoughts and opinions with people from different places in the world has definitely made me change my mind. I’ve got to thank many people in my PLN for that change of attitude, and you can read what they have to say about Twitter by following their blogs (check the “blogs to follow” to your right).
Anyway, today I also participated in my first #edchat. “What is #edchat?” you ask me? Well, I won’t even bother to come up with an explanation when you can find all you’ll need to know here. Tonight’s conversation was about how administrators could evaluate tech in teaching. Needless to say, with teachers and educators from all walks of life, the conversation was fruitful and engaging. A bit hard to follow, that’s true, but still, lots of interesting insights. Oh, not to mention the number of like-minded people you can add to your own PLN.
What about you? Do you tweet? Why is it that more and more people are talking about twitter these days? How do you use twitter? How important is it for any professional to develop their own PLN these days?
The world is out there, and it’s easier than ever for you to go and get it.