Cyberchat: 21st Century Teachers And Digital Parents

By Dr. Barbara Spears.

As school has now returned from the summer holidays, and everyone gradually settles back into the routine of teaching, classes and homework, it is time to consider how teachers’, both students, young people’s and their parents’ lives are being transformed through the use of technology in school settings.

The 21st Century Teacher

A quick online search reveals fun checklists designed to benchmark teachers’ attitudes, expectations and behaviours against contemporary technological practices. These checklists challenge teachers to consider the authentic technology sources cited in student projects such as blogs, wikis, Skype interviews and podcasts; to question whether the students’ collaborators are even in the same country, and to monitor their own use of twitter, faceboook, online communities and RSS feeds. But there is a serious side to being a 21st century teacher: Is it enough to be engaging with current technology, or is a 21st century teacher one who is able to shift pedagogies as the technologies emerge and converge around us? How do teachers and education departments overcome a fear of social media risks to embrace and enjoy the benefits of being online educators with their students? And given that there is difficulty retaining teachers in the profession, can social media play a role in connecting and mentoring beginning teachers?

The Digital Parent

How do you parent in a digital environment? Young people born in 1995 are in their final years of schooling and have been increasingly surrounded by ever converging technologies. However, parents in a recent survey in the UK revealed that one in six do not know how to operate their children’s ‘gadgets’.

How do parents navigate the pathway through adolescence, with the added risks and benefits of the digital and online world? The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) has recently released the Easy Guide to Socialising Online which provides information on social networking sites, search engines and online games. The Connect Safely site offers a directory/clearing house for resources that have been developed worldwide.

Recognising that they have to take some social responsibility for the impacts of their products, telecommunication companies are providing online resources which offer direct support to parents, for example, Vodaphone’s Digital Parenting booklet.

The Impact On Relationships

Teachers’, students’ and parents’ lives and relationships are being transformed through the use of technology in school settings, and much of the relationship focus of this impact has been on the more negative aspects of it, such as cyberbullying, and the need for cybersafety initiatives. However, the positive impact of technology on relationships in educational settings, is something that needs to be championed, and a new book due for release in February, 2012 is doing just that.

Drawing on research completed by different authors from several countries, it explores the positive role of ICTs in relationship forming, social networking use and social relationships in school settings. It offers cross-cultural, psychological perspectives on the uses of new and emerging technologies to improve social relationships in educational settings.

If we are to have 21st Century educators, capable of employing innovative technologies and associated pedagogies to enhance the learning outcomes of 21st century students, under the direction of 21st century principals and leadership teams, we must recognise the difficulty this may present for 21st century parents, whose experience of parenting and schooling, may well be from their own 20th century parents, and their own experience of schooling.

It is important to recognise, however, that parenting itself has not changed, but the boundaries may have. Whereas children and young people use to roam far from home, on their bikes for example, exploring fields near and far, now they roam online. However, just as parents provide sage advice on how to behave when outside of the home, the same can be said for behaving online. Parents then, should consider parenting ‘through the screen’, by ensuring that their children have the skills and attitudes which reflect respectful relationships and are provided with the skills to make sensible and safe decisions, both on and offline.


Dr. Barbara Spears is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, University of South Australia. She has led the Australian Government investigation into Covert Bullying: Insights into the Human Dimension of Covert Bullying, and is a member of the evaluation team for KidsMatter, a national mental health initiative in primary schools.


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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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