Education Futures, Teachers and Technology
5.20.10 | “Education Futures, Teachers and Technology” [PDF] highlights the key points of a day-long seminar, built on Futurelab’s Beyond Current Horizons program. The seminar considered the implications for initial teacher training and continuing professional development, with an emphasis on the role of digital technologies.
Digital media is a growing part of kids’ daily lives, reshaping how they access and use information. Yet schools are slow to adapt, and teachers are often less digitally savvy than their students. Technology, the report notes, is also a moving target, shifting in major ways every decade or so. School systems—centralized, slow-moving institutions—are not set up to respond to those shifts.
Parents and others often worry that technology will replace teachers, but as the report points out, teachers still play a very central role—albeit a different one:
Whilst the teacher will remain a focal point in the whole process of teaching and learning, a big change, already being seen in leading practice, will be away from the teacher as dispenser of knowledge. This was described in various ways – children will come to class more information rich; informal learning will become more important, and more pervasive; there will be a change to the relationship between learners and teachers. “Teacher” itself could become a problematic word, as it covers many roles such as facilitator, enabler, or coach.
These developments suggest a rise in the number of roles needed to support learners and a change to the definition of what it means to be “a teacher.” Not taking this on board would mean a risk of teaching and schooling being seen as irrelevant. The implication is a big cultural shift in learner-teacher relations, especially from the existing teacher role in secondary schools.
In addition to the changing role of teacher is the changing role of the classroom. Learning has never truly been contained to the four walls of a classroom, but with digital media and its accompanying information creep, the self-contained classroom walls break down. A snapshot of a young person’s day reveals that learning happens anywhere, in school and out, driven in part by the ubiquity of digital media.
Therefore, the report notes, the fortress school and the factory school will, or should, disappear. “The identification of learning, or indeed education, solely with schools will no longer be sustainable.”
Yet, the report notes, “it is unwise to assume that access to ‘information’ reduces the importance of teachers’ subject knowledge.” Indeed, the networked learning that digital media fosters can allow teachers to tap more experts online and off.
The report raises issues that align with the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning initiative as it moves to phase two of its program. The initiative supports a range of programs, designers, researchers, educators and others who are working to create a new ecosystem of learning in a digital era.
Borrowing from a playbook of Henry Ford, the initiative is pushing those involved to question whether working harder to make the horse run faster is where we want to place our energies in education. In the case of Ford, he was talking about the need to break the mold in designing a new mode of transportation called the car. In the case of digital media and learning, the “horse” is the 19th-century institution, the American classroom.
Should we, in other words, continue to tinker with the current methods in the classroom or create a new ecosystem for learning with the classroom as but one node on a web of learning?
Digital media allows youth to be very active learners and creators. Yet there is little if any connection between in-school and out-of-school activities. Learning is not yet transparent from one sector to the next. It is up to kids to make sense of what they learn in one place and transport that knowledge to the next.
Therefore, a vision for 21st-century learning is no longer grounded in a single institution or an extended school day. It must honor the networked lives of youth and work across institutions and capacities, rather than pitting them against each other. Building these interconnected learning environments, and creating networked institutions that establish new ecosystems for learning, is critical.
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