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Technology and what?

March 18th, 2009

Yesterday I was reading “Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century” by Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari. They reckon the challenge for the 21st school is to “educate children for living and working in an information-rich technological environment”.  This made me start thinking again about the role of technology in 21st Century education.

Although, I agree advances in technology have changed what we can do and know, I’m still convinced this alone is not a good enough definition of what 21st Century education is all about but I’m having problems identifying what I think is missing. I think it has something to do with diversity and ideas of equity. We are constantly told NZ is becoming a more diverse society but what does this actually mean? As international travel becomes easier, NZ is less isolated physically from the rest of the world and people from all over the world are making NZ their home. Information technology also allows us to connect with people from all over the world so we are not restricted to interacting just with those in our immediate physical communities. ..(so perhaps it is all about technology!) Contact with people who are different from us doesn’t guarantee we celebrate or even recognise diversity though. I think perhaps an acceptance that there are many different (and valid) ways of doing things and making meaning of the world, is an important aspect of  21st Century education…but then if that is the case who decides what should be in the school curriculum? Whose knowledge or world view is included, whose is left out? How do we (and who is “we”) decide what is powerful knowledge?

All this brought me to wondering about whether 21st Century teachers need not only a certain awareness of their own meaning making systems in order to be able to interact respectfully and at more than just a surface level with others but also an awareness of how our current education system has developed, what its original purpose was and what the society was like it was designed to serve.

So…I think I’m arguing that C21st teachers need knowledge about the system they work within (and the assumptions that underpin it) and also about how they operate as individuals…as well as subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge etc etc. .. and perhaps that is why I’m no longer a classroom teacher!

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  1. | #1

    I think that we need to educate with technology because the world is increasingly technological and we needed to prepare students for this new world. But I am starting to think that we also need to teach some things that could diminish as a result of technology, but are still important.

    Take physical social interaction for example. Today, children and teenagers spend a lot of time interacting with technology such as mobiles, computers, game consoles, etc, and often they know more about these things than we do. But all these devices that help us work, play, and interact, also lessen the time for real or should I say physical social interaction. When youth today say “I played with Jack today” or I hung out with Jill”, they could well mean that they played an internet game together or were hanging in Facebook meaning that they were actually miles apart.

    I have also noticed in Cyberspace that people often speak to each other in a manner that would be considered offensive if it was said face to face. Speech such as “Your are wrong and stupid” seems almost normal behaviour in forums for example. Perhaps if the setting was a real room these people wouldn’t speak their mind so quickly because face to face contact means greater accountability.

    So what kind of impact will technology have on people when they socially interact in a physical space. Will the rules and ways of Cyberspace creep into the real world too?

    I have read a number of articles recently that are of the opinion that today’s youth are behind in years regarding social interaction, and that technology is the cause.

    Perhaps the best thing we can do is to get the balance right. Too much technology could lead to technology adept people who cannot hold a decent conversation, while not enough technology could give us decent people who are scared of change and using technology to their advantage.

  2. Ally
    | #2

    I think my last comment had all three of the elements you suggest in it!
    Certainly , when I was teaching I had very little time to think (or sleep for that matter). As well as being an incredibly demanding job that was never done to a level I could feel really satisfied with, like many other female teachers, in that stage of my life I was juggling teaching with the demands of a young family of my own. Even when I was still working within the system, I felt constrained by it – and I’m sure that feeling would be worse now if I went back, given the time and opportunity I have had to think about what really matters to me…and yes, I do see teaching as an unrealistically demanding job.
    In another book I have been reading recently, the authors suggest that social innovation is a combination of action and stillness ie being able to stand still long enough to see what is around you and try and understand the context of the moment but also knowing when it is time to do something. I think that is a really difficult balance to achieve. Teaching is an incredibly reactive occupation – something happens, you deal with it. Often when I go into schools I see a huge array of interesting initiatives all aimed at solving some problem or issue but what often strikes me is a lack of sense of coherence. I’m not sure teachers do have enough time to think about how what they are doing fits into the bigger picture…nor do I know the best way to achieve this. Perhaps blocks of time out of the classroom – some sort of sabbatical would work but then would you have a whole lot of teachers like me who then don’t want to go back into the classroom?
    One thing that I noticed with several of the teachers we interviewed in the Teachers Work project was that many of them had experienced teaching overseas or had come into the profession having done something else first ie they had experience working outside “the system”.
    The idea of extending pre-service education is interesting to me. I think teachers need a “good general education” – whatever that might mean but you would run the risk of excluding people from teaching who hadn’t been successful in the current system (and who might make excellent teachers) and also I don’t think we want to under estimate the power of “just in time” learning. The professional learning I’m doing about research methodologies at the moment for instance is powerful because it is relevant – it might not have been when I was a full time student!

  3. Rachel
    | #3

    Hi Ally, you’ve made some interesting points and I’d like to know exactly what you mean by your last sentence “perhaps that is why I’m no longer a classroom teacher”? Do you mean that in your time as a classroom teacher you didn’t have the opportunity to engage with these ideas? And if so, are you saying that this was:
    A. Because you just didn’t have the opportunity to (e.g. time, space, opportunity to discuss these kinds of ideas with others), but you do think it is possible for this to happen under the right circumstance? or
    B. Because now, having HAD the time and space to start to think of these kind of ideas, you can’t imagine yourself going back inside “the system” because it doesn’t really allow you to think in these ways?
    C. Having realised what you think it is teachers in the 21st century need to know, you now just think it’s an even more impossibly difficult job than you knew it to be at the time, and you can’t imagine anyone actually doing it well?

    The reason I am interested to hear more from you about this is that as an educational researcher, I know how long it takes to start to grapple with all these ideas (in short: forever – you never find the answer, only more questions!). In the past couple of years when I’ve been invited to speak to schools or conference groups, people often introduce me by saying how lucky I am to have time to think about all these ideas that busy classroom teachers don’t have the time to think about. I think it is true – the fact that one can have a fulltime job as a researcher and writer in education shows how much “stuff” there is to think and talk about! Of course, in schools I’ve visited I’ve encountered some people who do seem to have a very keen interest in these ideas as well, and despite having one of the most complex and busy jobs (teaching, or being a principal), they do manage to engage with these ideas through their reading, or conferences, or in their professional learning converstaions at school, and so on. So does being a 21st century teacher mean you have to be workaholic superhero who can teach, read, think, reflect, (and still have time for a life)? Are we asking too much of people? (for example, in this blogposting that suggest what is promoted as 21st century teaching is “beyond the cognitive limits of most human beings” http://www.coreknowledge.org/blog/2009/03/02/21st-century-skills-a-guide-for-clear-thinkers/.) Should we be encouraging people to undertake years of study in educational philosophy before they even think about becoming teachers? :) Or maybe we need to reorganise the employment of teachers so that they have much more regular opportunities for professional learning – and if so what would this look like?
    What do you think Ally?? Do you have some ideas??

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