Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It Is Not About the Technology… Sort of.

In my job as a technology integration specialist, I spend a lot of time teaching people how to use technology, convincing people of the power of technology, and demonstrating how technology can be embedded into our curricula. However, the more I do these activities, the more I realize that it is not about the technology. But before you start rejoicing that I will suddenly stop evangelizing about educational technology, I’d better explain.

When I say it is not about the technology, I mean that I am spending a lot of time thinking about the outcome. What do I want kids who graduate from school to be able to do? Do I want them to multiply, memorize capitals or dates, or write beautiful five paragraph essays? No, I want them to be successful in this new society, controlled by ubiquitous access to massive amounts of information, instant and cheap communication with the whole world, and access to tools that do many of the tasks that have traditionally been taught in schools. So how do I do this?

First, we need to look really hard at what we teach and how we teach. We need to engage in a conversation with our students about what the world looks like that awaits them when they graduate. What are the opportunities, what are the challenges? There are many of both. We don’t address them in school. As a teacher, how often do we discuss the importance of issues like global competition, a job market that is moving away from routine tasks and more and more towards creative problem solving, collaboration, and flexibility? How often do we discuss or, better yet, use digital tools in ways that solve complex problems, access and organize massive amounts of information of varying quality, communicate persuasively, and collaborate across time and distance? How often do we discuss the dangers of Internet safety, including cyberbullying, copyright laws, privacy, and content that is increasingly subjective?

How often do we neglect these issues in order to teach math facts, spelling, historical dates, or other low level thinking skills? I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time or place for these skills, but if they are the bulk of our curriculum and they come at the expense of the other important skills, what are we really doing for our kids?

So, it isn’t about the technology. It is about teaching 21st century skills and putting student learning in the correct context. However, I’m not sure how we do all that without the use of technology. Are you?

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