Monday, February 14, 2011

Teaching in the 21st Century

Uncle Sam Wats You

Last Friday I posted notice of the Watson vs. Jeopardy Stars Event. Forty students left comments prior to my writing thispost. Over and over they wrote something like this: “I don’t want my students to depend on technology to gather information.” The suggested substitutes or additional methods for gathering information were libraries, classrooms, books, encyclopedias, hard work, pencils, paper, teachers. One student made it crystal clear: “A teacher’s job is to provide information.”

I have two response.

First, and most importantly, the assumption that underlies these responses is that learning = information. That is absolutely not true, even though our educational system has forced you to believe that it is true with its emphasis on burp-back education and machine readable tests. It makes me ill to think what our educational system has done to you. DO NOT LET IT CONTINUE IN YOUR CLASSROOMS!

Second, a sense of fear pervades at least half of the responses. What are the sources of those fears? First there is a fear that all information should not be available to everyone. One student compared the information available as a result of the new technologies as in need of restrictions similar to the restrictions we attempt to place on nuclear weapons. (He did admit that his position was a bit extreme.) Others suggested that "inappropriate" information might be available, or connections made with unsavory individuals. Still others suggested we could undermine the ability to write and spell, we could lose our jobs to machines, the emotion and excitement of human responses would disappear, students would become lazy, hard work would not be valued, thinking would be undermined, we could encounter severe difficulties in case of electronic or political actions that shut down technologies, we might become “robot chow,” intelligence would decrease over time, people would be less willing to learn facts, machines would take over thinking, “humans would become obsolete.”

Wow! What a list of fears. A few respondents, but only a few, expressed the fear that without the technologies their students or their children would be faced with severe economic difficulties and extreme competition from those who did have and use the tools to their maximum advantage. But several more admitted that they would not like it at all if they were separated from their cellphone tools!

Look again at the video assigned for last Sunday (2/13) - Kevin Robert’s Teaching In the 21st Century. Even though this video was renamed by one student Mr. Very Long Video , it is worth your attention for the full 9 and 3/4 minutes (my, how short your attention spans have gotten!) it takes to watch it. And then it deserves some additional time while you think about what it has to say about teaching since you intend to be “teachers.”

Here’s a quick summary for those of you without 9:49 to spare:

•If teachers are mere dispensers of information, our jobs are obsolete!
•We must teach our students how to validate, synthesize, leverage, communicate, collaborate with, problem solve with information.

A Strange interruption: How well can you do these things? Has anyone ever taught you how to do these things? Are you learning these things now in the College of Education?

We return to our program in progress:

•We must teach skills not facts.
•In addition to teaching students to remember, we must also teach them how to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. Yes create!
•And we must teach them about responsibility, reliability, integrity, collaboration.
•We must rethink our classrooms. What tools should we and our students use? What problems should we ask our students to solve?
•Ask your students to explain, evaluate and justify their positions about contemporary, interesting issues that affect them.
•Your classrooms will have to be relevant, challenging, engaging. Not entertaining - engaging!

Another Strange interruption: You cannot, you must not teach the way you were taught! You must be a different kind of teacher in a different kind of world. If I thought you would, I would urge you to go back through Teaching In the 21st Century again. Slowly. Taking more than 9 3/4 minutes. It is worth you most careful consideration! We must also learn from our students. Thanks to Teri Hampton (Fall 2010) for bringing this most important video to my attention!

We return to our program in progress:

•These changes must start with YOU!

What Does It Mean to Teach in the 21st Century?