By Peter West
“Are we there yet?” These are not the words any parent wants to hear from the children in the back seat a few minutes into a holiday road trip. However, they are the words educators should be saying when they are one-sixth of the way through the 21st century. The discussion about 21st century skills and how to implement them in the classroom and infuse them into students should be over. However, there are still discussions and the sounds of confusion and inertia in some schools.
In the meantime, some students have been locked into the past. Educators need to do better. It is time to forget the jargon and confusing terms and see modern education more clearly. It is time to move from ad hoc changes, giving a project a try, taking on small projects in the hope they will take off, and relying on lone innovators to eventually inspire the rest of the staff.
A Technology-Enhanced World
Forget all of the trendy new terms out there; put simply, technology-enhanced learning and teaching is what is needed. A technology-enhanced world already exists, and few would want to lose the benefits available. Today’s world and lifestyles are vastly different to the world people lived in and the lifestyles they had 20 or 30 years ago. There is technology-enhanced:
- smartphones and Wi-Fi compared to pagers and old-fashioned landlines
- social media and email instead of paper letters delivered by ‘snail mail’
- digital photos and online photo sharing as compared to paper-based photos that were expensive to develop and print – and took days to be processed
- streaming media such as Netflix providing movies and TV series on demand rather than limited viewing and specific show schedules on free-to-air TV
- streaming music such as Spotify
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers to play music wirelessly throughout the house
- cars with on-board computers, GPS navigation, ABS brakes, traction control, electronic stability control and more
- modern planes that provide cheap, fast and (relatively) comfortable transport to anywhere on the planet
- anywhere, anytime and cost-effective shopping via a range of online providers
This is just a tiny part of the list that could be compiled. Yet, how much has the classroom changed? This does not refer to there being laptops in the classroom. How many classrooms in a school could one walk past and see the teaching and learning occurring differently to 20 or 30 years ago? In how many classrooms would there still be a teacher at the front ‘teaching’ and students sitting at desks writing into note books? (This is not to say there is no place for this; it just should not be the primary methodology for most teachers most of the time.)
In how many classrooms would technology-enhanced learning and teaching be seen? Are there ‘pager’ classes in an iPhone world? Are there ‘VHS video recorder’ schools in a Netflix world?
Whole Organisation Change
By this stage of the 21st century, schools and educators should be fully immersed in whole organisation change, rather than hoping that the lone innovators will enthuse others sufficiently so that everyone eventually engages. This is hopelessly optimistic and simply cushions school leaders from their responsibility; namely, providing the benefits of technology-enhanced education to every student in the organisation. The benefits of technology-enhanced education should not depend on which teacher a student has! Yet, whole organisation change is difficult, so some move away from this path to one that is less stressful (but also far less effective).
Imagine a parallel situation: a modern hospital compared to one from 30 or more years ago. Imagine a patient is taken to a hospital with something wrong (perhaps a heart attack). Imagine two doctors – one who embraced the benefits of technology and one who continued doing as he had done decades ago because “that is the way it has always been done”. Twenty years ago, a patient with a heart attack was given morphine to ease pain, lidocaine to prevent irregular heartbeats and was placed in a darkened room. Damage to the heart muscle using these methods could be significant. Nowadays, there is better monitoring equipment, doctors are aware that speed of treatment is vital, there are clot-reducing medicines, stents can be introduced to widen constricted blood vessels, surgery techniques are more advanced and surgeons have sophisticated methods of sewing new blood vessels into the heart to bypass damaged vessels. (Cox & Peck, 2009)
Would the patient want the doctor who had upskilled and embraced modern possibilities, or the one who had not kept up to date? What if you were the one having the heart attack, and the hospital told your family that the doctor who had your case did not want to change the way he did things, and thus stayed with the older treatments. Would you be happy, or would you expect the hospital to ensure only the latest methods were used by all doctors?
The classroom and the school are no different! Yet there are teachers who are concerned that they are too busy to take even more training, who do not want computers teaching their students and who do not want to be ‘replaced by a computer’. Yet doctors find time to constantly upskill (lucky for us) and are not being replaced by computers. Instead, they are using technology to improve medical outcomes. Doctors are still the key. The technology simply provides efficiencies and improves effectiveness. It has changed the way they do things; it has not removed them from the equation and it has probably made many aspects of their job easier.
Teaching is no different. Adding effective technology does not remove the teacher from the equation. Instead, it provides the opportunity for richer teaching and learning to occur. It may look different, with more individualisation, collaboration and more, but the teacher is still vital.
If Not Now, When?
Enhancing education through the effective use of technology, and the subsequent shift in the classroom paradigm, is the biggest change in education in over 100 years. Systematic, planned, long-term change across an entire organisation takes time, commitment and focus. It is not easy, but it is not complex and it is worthwhile. In fact, it is essential.
My school has been on this path of whole organisation effective change in this area for over five years, and we are still are not ‘there yet’. We have achieved significant success in many areas, but there is still a long way to go. Change of this magnitude takes time.
The question is, if success in this area takes years, not months or weeks, and it is already 2017, when will you get there? 2022? 2025? Or will you be a ‘paper map’ school in a ‘satnav’ world?
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Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology-enhanced education, particularly blended learning using online learning environments. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.blended-thinking.com
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