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It’s Not About the Technology

Originally posted to the Edurati Review:

I am sitting here at my laptop, occasionally watching my Skype and Tweetdeck notifications in case I miss something from a family member or colleague, and I’m going to honestly tell you that learning in the 21st century is not about the technology. Blasphemy! my tech-savvy friends are saying. Six months ago I might have agreed, but today I’m more than willing to stand by my words.

We are hearing more and more talk recently about what learning and teaching will look like in the 21st century. What do we need to bring us into the future? What will our children need to know and be able to do? The first thing to comes to everyone’s mind is technology. We need computers. We need ipods. We need wireless connectivity. We need 1:1 initiatives. We need blogs, wikis and podcasts.  While I completely agree with the fact that these are innovative tools for teaching and learning, I do not agree that these are the first things we need to initiate change in our classrooms.

Before anything else, the educational community (including state and national organizations, teacher preparation programs, and local systems) must recognize the need to change an overall approach to teaching and learning. The tools mentioned earlier, like netbooks, 1:1 initiatives, and web 2.0 tools, will not be effective vehicles for instruction without these evolution in mindset. Here is a list of four things that every teacher must recognize in order to effectively and positively impact students in a new generation of learning.

1. Teachers must be learners. As teachers, most of us have completed a specialised teacher preparation program. We have passed a test of proficiency in basic educational theory and child psychology. We have demonstrated mastery of our own content areas. Think about the teachers in your building. The years that these teachers have exited these initial requirements span decades. If you put them all in one room, you will probably find that their experiences in these areas were very different. Yet, they are all teaching children today. Teachers today must be perpetual learners who are invested in their professions. We must be up to date on current trends, research and tools. We must know what our students are doing and where they are coming from when they enter our classrooms. This learning cannot just include mandated workshops and occasional required readings. Teachers who want to be truly succesful must be voracious and self-motivated in their pursuit of evoloving understanding.

2. Learning and Teaching are not the same thing. How many times have we heard a colleague say, “I don’t know why these kids don’t get it. I’ve taught it a hundred times.” I equate teaching and learning to a basic physics principle. If an object does not move, no matter how much force has been applied, no work has been done. Therefore, if a student has not learned, not matter how much effort has been exerted, no teaching has been done. Teaching in the 21st century is going to be about working smarter and not harder. It is not about adding to our proverbial plates. We must look at learning as the product of a successful day. Learning will not look the same to all students or all teachers, but it must be the goal.

3. Technology is useless without good teaching. We have countless technological tools at our disposable today. These tools range in cost from free to thousands and thousands of dollars. When we put innovative tools in the hands of innovative teachers, amazing things can happen. If you put these tools in the hands of teachers who are not willing to innovate, money has been wasted. There are arguments against spending the money on interactive whiteboards for classrooms. At approximately $5000 each, you would think these boards would facilitate better teaching. It is not about the board. It is about proper training and mindset of a teacher who is already willing and eager to do amazing things. The lack of comprehensive and curriculum-related professional development for teachers is why schools have thousands of computers that are being used as game systems and word processors.

4. Be a 21st Century Teacher without the technology. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has published a framework for learning in the 21st century. The core outcomes for students include:

1. Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes
2. Learning and Innovation Skills
* Creativity and Innovation
* Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
* Communication and Collaboration
3. Information, Media and Technology Skills
* Information Literacy
* Media Literacy
* ICT Literacy
4. Life and Career Skills

Upon careful consideration, these are outcomes that can be achieved with little technology (excluding of course some components of the Information, Media and Technology Skills). If a teacher can find ways to prepare students with the capacity to be creative and innovative, those children will be well prepared to face the future. Teachers who customize the learning experiences of their students to involve critical thinking and problem solving are doing their students a greater favor than those who misuse technology as a means of facilitating learning. Those teachers who know how to foster communication and collaboration within their classrooms and school buildings are equipping their students with the abilities to apply these core skills to more areas in their own lives.

Now imagine a classroom where the teacher has embraced these principles. The teacher is a learner. The teacher teaches with learning in mind. 21st century skills are highlighted through facilitative leadership. These foundational components of a quality classroom experience will ensure that students value experiential and focused learning. Now if you take this teacher and introduce them to the wonders that technology offers for students, the possibilities are endless. But, it really is not about the technology.


15 Responses

  1. Well said! I love the physics analogy, but that’s a bias from a science teacher. It’s still true though. “I taught ’em, it’s not my fault they didnt’ learn” just isn’t good enough.

  2. I totally agree with you. Technology is not a substitute for good teaching but can be magical in the hands of a great teacher. I think getting teachers to think differently about teaching and learning is one of the greatest challenges in education today. My experience has been that most teachers believe they are teaching, even when their students haven’t learned. When that shift happens on a grand scale-that’s when we’ll see education change. Thoughtful post as always!

  3. Good work.

    The best way to learn a skill is to teach the skill has always worked.


  4. While I agree that the core outcomes you list from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills can be learned without technology (have in fact been goals of education for as long as we’ve thought about what it means to educate kids), to teach these outcomes without technology means you are not training your kids for a 21st century life after school. You are training them for the 19th or 20th century where blogs, and wikis and myspace and ipods and netbooks wherenot a part of their daily life. It’s not about the technology – technology is just another tool but if we want to prepare our kids for life after school – it should be with the tools they will find when they leave our schools.

  5. Jason, Thanks for bringing this up, and I think you have valid points. In fact, these are tools that I use in my classroom every day. My thoughts come more from the idea that we can’t use web 2.0 tools as simply that, “tools.” They must be an integrated part of a concrete instructional plan that must be developed with the learner in mind. I think the core concepts from The Partnership for 21st Century Skills are important because they are still being listed as concepts for all teachers to include. These ideals are not being used to drive instruction and planning today. There is still so much focus on rote memorization and regurgation as learning. I can’t wait to see the day when schools don’t have to list these things are part of a prescriptive plan of teaching. I believe that once teachers develop a passion for being a perpetual learner and concentrate on the learner, they will want to integrate technology, not just have to do it.

  6. […] Originally posted to the Edurati Review and Keeping Kids First: […]

  7. Actually, what we need is a return to schools that can produce. This means, that we must get the government OUT of the business of schools altogether. The most innovative schools of today where the “tools” mentioned above are truly being used to their best capabilities and the affordances of the internet seem to be working such as blogs are found first in the homeschools, followed by the private schools.

    Most state schools cut themselves off from the outside world anyway when it comes to the internet. I find far more tailor made, individualized education in the homeschool movement. Let’s save all our taxpayer money, have truly constructivist schools and separate the School from State, NOW!

  8. […] ago, I published a series of my thoughts on 21st century learning and teaching in a post titled “It’s Not About the Technology.” For a tech integrator and enthusiast like me, it was almost uncomfortable to articulate […]

  9. […] It’s Not About the Technology « Keeping Kids First 1. Teachers must be learners 2. Learning and Teaching are not the same thing 3. Technology is useless without good teaching. 4. Be a 21st Century Teacher without the technology. (tags: 21stcenturyskills learning) […]

  10. Kelly – Great post.

    But I have two issues with it.

    First, I totally agree that “technology is useless without good teaching.” But I am close to be willing to suggest that good teaching is useless without technology. Our students who “succeed” in the future will be, for the most part, master users of technology. So if all of our teachers taught without technology, our students would be deprived and not ready for the future. Your argument about $5,000 whiteboards is right on. What I am talking about are the personal communication technologies that our students already have and us (at least in lot of places), but they do not know how to maximize their use for learning (or may not care to.) All my grandchildren use technology more than most of their parents and grandparents. What we need to do is not teach without technology, but to teach withe the technologies that kids use today. This is an entirely different approach than a school system using the technologies that have been sold TO THE SYSTEM!

    I don’t think, however, that you intended to suggest that your major point in this paragraph was technology. Rather it was a plea that we need teachers who are willing to learn and we need training programs to help them do just that. I guess my lead line in Part 3 would read:

    Technology is no substitute for bad teaching, but good teachers, teachers who are also learners, will be better teachers with the right technologies, proper training, and open settings in which to practice their profession.

    Second, I have to disagree with you that you can be a 21st Century Teacher without the technology. Let me go through the core outcomes to explain why I say this.

    My thinking is that the core subjects can probably be taught better with technology than without (students are now listener/watchers not reader/writers whether we like that or not) and I think we need to help them become producers of the new media rather than just consumers. I also can’t see how 21st Century Themes could be addressed without technology – probably THE moving force so far in the 21st century. And innovation skills – without technology in a technological world? It seems to me that technology is the most important source of innovation today. If so, teach innovation there.

    And communication and collaboration? Communication has been totally altered by technology and I can’t imagine not communicating without the new technologies. Collaboration also. I did not know you before Twitter. But now I do, and I know you teach not too far removed where I lived (in Kinston) the first year after I was graduated from Duke. One of the most important values of the new technologies is that collaboration – world wide – is now easy!

    And I have already indicated my feelings on Life and Career skills. Without knowledge of, access to, and the ability to use the new technologies, the careers of tomorrow will be very limited.

    But back to your first two points. All teachers must be learners. ABSOLUTELY. This is critically important. And missing in far too many classrooms. Shout it from the rooftops. (And on the net!)

    And teaching is not the same as learning. You say “Teaching in the 21st century is going to be about working smarter and not harder.” Too many of my students think they will be able to teach as they were taught – burp back education. We must all be learners. In doing that, we may teach. But if we are not learners, we won’t teach.

    Your post will be required reading for my EDM 310 classes this fall. In addition, each student will have to write two or three substantive paragraphs about what you have said in their class blog. I’ll keep you informed when that will be so you can see their remarks. And you might even comment on a few of their posts if you have time.

    Keep up the great work!

  11. This type of education is quite easy to envision and it has been around for 30 years. It’s called homeschooling. Welcome to an old movement that is still eons ahead of the government schooling paradigm.

  12. Kelly Hines I really enjoyed your post.I read your post for Dr.Strange edm310 class assignment and my comments can be found on my class blog catinamagbyedm310.blogspot.com

  13. Mrs. Kelly Hines this post is an eye opener to people who think because they have a computer that makes them technology literate. I don’t understand why people are afraid of using technology to the fullest. I plan to be a teacher but that doesn’t mean I will stop learning. I enjoyed your post. Your post was an assignment in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at The University of South Alabama. My class blog is: http://lettlachandraedm310.blogspot.com/. On my blog you will find my outlook about your post and many others. Thank you!

  14. Mrs. Hines,
    I loved this post because it gives the reasons to why its not just about the technology. This is because there are teachers out in the world who refuse to learn the technology and therefore are not preparing the students in the ways they should be taught. A great teacher can teach without the most up to date technology but it is better for the students if technology is available fore use. I am responding to this for my class assignment from EDM 310, Dr. Strange. My class blog is http://estesbrittanyedm310.blogspot.com/. Thank you!

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