Teaching in the 21st Century
The 21st century began on January 1, 2001 and ends December 31, 2100. This is the first century of the 3rd millennium. Ninety nine years. Fifteen years of significant change, so far.
When we think of major changes in the 21st century, technology stands out by far. In current times, everything has to be “smart”. Everything has to happen “right now”. Research. Responses. Results. We have smart phones, smart TV’s, smart cars, basically everything is “smarter” than it used to be.
Technology has impacted almost every aspect of life today, and we fail to realize that education is no exception. As a current student and aspiring teacher, I want people to know that, as technology has advanced, so has teaching practices and texts.
Technology has changed, thereby causing teachers to change their stylistic approach and their writing practices. Because everything has become based on technology in today’s world.
In order to understand how technology has effected the field of teaching, we have to know how it used to be.
What was once chalk and a chalkboard, turned into a white board, and is now a smart board. These changes may seem minor, but classrooms are set up to mirror how students are taught, through their teachers’ approach. As chalkboards have turned into smart boards, notebooks have turned into tablets and computers.
While the advances allow students more access to research and ways to obtain new information, complete assignments, turn them in, take tests, and the like, it increases the stress on both the student and the teachers. Both are now expected to do better. Be better, smarter, faster.
School and classroom structures as well as the culture of teaching have changed. For example, there are teachers that resist using technology for several reasons. They may not be prepared for change, they may not have the time to learn the technology, they may simply prefer the methods that have been in place for years.
While classrooms are still teacher centered and not student centered, technological innovations, like computers effect the teacher methods. Many experts believe that advances in information technology have the potential to transform classroom teaching, for example, by providing alternatives to the standard lecture format and by giving students immediate access to a wealth of high quality interactive resources and tools. But schools have been inconsistent in implementing instructional technology initiatives, evidence of effectiveness has been murky and some teachers, as I mentioned above, are resistant to wholesale efforts to re-orient instruction around computers.
Even though classrooms today look nearly identical to those of the 20th century, minus a few upgrades to the modern chalkboard, and sneaking to text friends in class instead of passing notes, there are significant exceptions.
Not just having computers in classrooms, but a seismic shift in the way things are done because technology is making the work easier and, in some cases, more efficient.
Before, when information was needed, you had to go to the library and research the item in books. Today, we can go to Google and in a matter of seconds, we are provided books, images, videos, and audio based on our keywords.
Today’s technology actually pushes towards individualized instruction for students as they are allowed to reach out beyond the walls of their classrooms to interact with other students, other teachers, and renowned authors, scientists, and experts to enhance their learning, all with a click of a button.
Education needs drive technology use and finds new ways to supplement the best learning possible. According to Jake Schwartz, CEO and co founder of General Assembly, ‘as technology advances, its limits will become clear”.
“Online” is not a cure all for education issues, but it can help provide great access to new skills training. When combined with curricula and programming created and led by practitioner educators, today’s technology is powerful.
The growing amount of the population living with crippling student debt combined with the pressure to keep tuition costs down threaten the sustainability of tuition dependent institutions, says Schwartz.
This will help to force an innovation drive with an unbundling of degree offerings, the sector will see a shift towards more relevant competency based programs and aggressive competition for students. The education employment gap will force higher educators to think creatively about how to free the training students need for a workforce that desperately needs them.
Today, as in years past, diplomas granted by years in school are the dominant certification of “learning”. Yet, in almost all cases, the diplomas of today certify nothing other than the fact that the person in question has spent a certain amount of years in school.
Competency based certifications testing specific skills, and bundling individual skills into professional groupings will become a global currency for both employers and job seeker.
The possibilities offered in technology feed into this shift a well. A new curriculum will eventually need to be created that builds on these possibilities, allowing students to move away from rote learning and tackle real world challenges and develop solutions for them.
Engaging and respecting students and families will become the new focus. Traditional education is very top down, heavy handed, sit down and read, be quiet, don’t ask questions. There is still a lot of room for innovation.
As the above factors change, a wider global reach, students who need to feel respected, and a workforce demanding skilled scholars, the roots of education will need to find ways to adapt to the new technology, and that means paying attention to our condensing, technologically shifting world.
By the end of this century in the year 2100, more than half of the world’s population will live in India, China or Africa. Global policy leadership and sales of education goods and services will be shaped less by issues and needs in the U.S., and more by the issues and needs of Africa, South Asian and China.
Market demand, and pressing policy issues related to urbanization and population growth, will shift the center of gravity of education provision. The U.S. is not yet stacking up to where the rest of the world is technologically and, consequently, feeling the pressure to be the world leader that we think we are, particularly in math and science.
For current schools of all types, content or curriculum will not be the core differentiator, but rather they will be judged on how well they coordinate complex offerings of technology and curricula into a useful package for their students and graduates.
Most professions can point to dramatic changes in the way they work, thanks to technological innovations, but teaching still looks and feels an awful lot like it did when today’s teachers were students themselves. It is starting to change, by demand, but it has been extremely slow.
While administrators grapple with the high costs of turnover, recruiting and retention, teachers are dealing with their own unique sets of challenges.
Teachers have to meet more stringent licensure requirements, added professional development demands, and increasingly rigorous course content often adding emotional and professional stress to their own lives.
Due to the state of technological advances, the added pressures of the accountability movement requirements such as increased reporting, additional testing, differentiating instruction for diverse learners and involvement in their school communities, add time to their already full schedules. Parental expectations for thorough communications and rapid response to questions and requests add greater demands to their overflowing workdays. Everybody expects you to have your smart phone in your hand at all times and at their disposal, 24 hours a day.
And while teachers generally are committed to their students, enjoy their work, and are devoted to their profession and their content areas, 21st century students come to school with very different sets of experiences and expectations than their 20th century counterparts.
These tech savvy, multi media, multi tasking digital natives navigate everyday life far differently than many of their digital immigrant teachers. Connecting with them, relating to them, and motivating them now requires teachers who are open to new ways of teaching and supporting students.
Given these challenges, teachers who are new to the profession often find themselves frustrated, disappointed and unsupported. They leave their schools and often the profession and the cycle continues.
Students across the achievement and socioeconomic spectrum need and deserve motivating, supportive instructional environments, engaging content and the opportunity to learn in settings that support collaboration with peers, teacher and the larger world community.
Students today live digitally every day. They use the internet, text messaging, social networking and multimedia fluidly in their lives outside of school and they expect a parallel level of technology opportunity in their academic lives. There is a disconnect between the way students live and the way they learn, and student engagement ultimately suffers. Teachers are left with the burden to close this gap.
“High quality teachers re the most important factor in child’s education”. With technological advances and the hi-tech, “right now”, “smart” world we live in, parents and students alike seem to forget that.
John Canuel, Director of Technology, Division of Instruction, for Jefferson County Schools in Colorado, provides a working example of the systemic process described by NCTAF’s Thomas Carroll. Canuel described the district’s model saying, “No matter what else we put in place, it’s what a teacher does and the tools and resources we give a teacher that makes them effective. With our model, we focus on four main areas for supporting teachers. Teachers need curriculum and we define that as the key essential learning that students need to know throughout their career and that tie back to standards, benchmarks, and expectations. Next is assessment. We embrace and surround our teachers with effective assessment tools so they know not only what students need to know…but verify that they [students] know it. We also emphasize clear instructional practices and clear strategies for differentiation, reaching every student. Lastly, we focus on teacher leadership, so teachers truly understand the big picture about where students are going.”
Jefferson County, like other districts throughout the United States, sought to develop a technology- enabled approach that would provide continuous, on-going professional development. Among their goals were providing educators with more convenient “anywhere, anytime” access to learning materials and online courses, offering more personalized professional learning opportunities, and creating online communities that would support individual needs and the sharing of best practices.
Canuel stated that the district used the four priorities noted above as the conceptual foundation for launching new technology-based educational tools and resources for teachers. In addition, the district’s leadership noted that teachers, young and veteran alike, were struggling with 21st century digital skills. As the district built its strategic plans, leadership challenged itself to “…think more comprehensively about how to step into a digital learning environment.”
Jefferson County’s Canuel noted that like districts everywhere, teacher workload was a difficult issue. When the new community portal/professional learning system was introduced, the district expected some resistance from faculty based on the need for training and the time required to learn the new system, but claim was overall, accepted. One wonders if it was truly accepted, or if teachers felt pressured to agree to it.
They claimed teachers were enthusiastic about it. Cancel stated, “Our teachers are more effective” and that “our teachers are more engaged.” He also noted that students now see their teachers modeling effective, productive use of technology and students perceive that teachers are “…engaging in their world.” Canuel also reported anecdotally that the new system is supporting teacher recruiting more effectively. He cites examples in which prospective recruits notice that the district is using “…the same kind of tools I’m used to using in college.” It’s tangible evidence that the district supports its teachers with quality resources and tools when new teachers come on board. In fact, all first and second year teachers in Jefferson County have their own community within the system and new teachers can see that they will have a digital support network when they begin their careers.
Technological advances have opened many more doors and stylistic opportunities for students and teachers alike, however, the stress put on all parties to do just that, is advancing as well.