In the last 20 years, the development and availability of the internet has dramatically changed access to information and knowledge. In fact, the impact that technology is having may be more surprising than most of us realize. There is no area of life that is not being significantly impacted by technology today, and educators are facing a revolution which they have yet to fully grasp.
Most educators started in this profession at a time when they were solely responsible for disseminating knowledge. We now are entering a time when we no longer will be serving in this same role. We are living in a time when knowledge is no longer held by a few people. Technology has opened access to make content and knowledge available to everyone on demand. Learning is no longer required to be done from 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Students can readily explore interests and passions outside the walls of the traditional school. Students can communicate in real time with others from anywhere in the world, create and publish work, and even determine their own learning.
Without question, technology is an integral part of life for today’s students. Students have grown up in a world where mobile computers, cell phones with browsers and other personal digital devices are common tools, and instant messaging, social networking, blogs and wikis are common modes of self-expression. Students today desire to learn in an environment that mirrors their lives and their futures — one that seamlessly integrates today’s digital tools, accommodates a mobile lifestyle, and encourages collaboration and teamwork in physical and virtual spaces.
An interesting twist is that current teachers are considered technology immigrants while children are technology natives. This creates a perplexing dilemma in schools, where students often know more about the use of technology (especially social media) than the adults. Often students are asked to turn-off their “normal” world of being engaged with technology and drop into an adult context disconnected from the platform of instant communication and access to nearly unlimited information.
Students need to acquire skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving, information and media literacy, self-direction, adaptability and accountability. Technology can be an asset in this quest. So, how should a school proceed with regards to technology to both harness student motivation and achieve its mission?
The most basic principle when considering the use of technology in an instructional program is that the focus is on student learning and not on the technology itself. How technology can be used as a tool to further learning should be the primary concern. The use of technology is not the end goal. The use of technology in the classrooms can richly cultivate the development of more comprehensive learning. Technology innovations give students direct access to the building blocks of their future knowledge with information available 24/7. It also shifts the focus of control to the student, enabling them to pursue learning both in school (formal learning) and outside of school (informal learning).
Placing technology tools into a classroom does not ensure that they will be used effectively. Teachers and school leaders need to participate in professional development on how to best harness the power of technology to increase student learning. Staff needs both instruction and consistent support on the use of the hardware and software tools. Classroom instruction time is a precious commodity. Teachers will not consistently engage students in use of the technology in the classroom without the equipment working in a dependable manner.
In addition, professional development to integrate technology through instructional strategies is critical for teachers to be successful. Teachers are generally more than willing to engage in new and creative strategies when they can see models of success. The role of an instructional coach is an important key to teaching these strategies. An instructional coach works with teachers to ensure that their lessons and projects are about rigorous, relevant curriculum rather than about the technology.
Embracing the use of technology, securing the tools and utilizing technology coaches who are instructional leaders to implement instructional strategies to cultivate student learning are critical elements to improve education. Teachers will become more than information experts. They must also be collaborators in learning — leveraging the power of students, seeking new knowledge alongside students and modeling life-long learning. In the classroom, it is critical to provide students digital tools and applications that could be used to calculate or record data, access information and reference materials, and create products that meet our learning goals.
Preparing students to be successful in the world of work is essential. Business and industry’s most desirable skills (work ethic, collaboration, social responsibility, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation) are necessities in the classroom. Having the opportunity to include instructional technology tools and training is a significant component of improving today’s education.
Bill Gibbons is president of the Board of Trustees at Cornerstone Christian Academy for Learning & Leadership (CCALL) in Vancouver. He is also the executive director of ALL His Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Advancing the Kingdom of God by funding and replicating CCALL around the nation and world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.