Are we really educating for the 21st Century?

“In too many cases, we bolt new technologies on top of current learning tools in the standard learning environment, which effectively means we give our kids a thousand-dollar pencil.” – Alan November.

I just went on YouTube and searched 21st Century learning and was not overly surprised with what came up – plenty of examples of digital technologies. Yep, it is undeniable that educators should keep up with changes in technology and utilise these in our classrooms. But if you have iPads, allow students to bring in their smart phones or have a school T.V station are you really doing enough? Is that really what 21st Century education is all about?  I think not and, apparently Alan November thinks so too!
In his book, “Who Owns the Learning?”  November asserts that we can pile new technologies on top of old teaching paradigms and fail to make any significant changes and prepare students successfully for life in the ‘digital age’. We see this constantly and the technology its self, rather than the user, is often blamed. For example, many now see interactive whiteboards as rather passé. I believe this is because far too many teachers (obviously not everyone though!) have not used them as they were intended – as an interactive teaching tool. Instead they have been used to project up everything that a teacher would normally write on the board. I also know of far too many teachers who still use laptops for students to type up stories on. A thousand dollar pencil indeed!

In order to actually improve student outcomes and properly prepare students for life beyond school, I think we need to change our pedagogy as well as integrate technology successfully into the learning in our classes. November argues that technology is required to change the nature of the roles and relationships between educators and students. He gives three first steps to get started:
1. Increase the autonomy of students.
2. Publish student work to a global audience.
3. Create a community of contribution within the classroom.

In other words, not just using cool iPad apps…

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4 thoughts on “Are we really educating for the 21st Century?

  1. I couldn’t agree more! It always makes me wince when the only reason people have to justify the use of expensive technology is that it “motivates the students”. Chocolate fish also motivate students and are a lot cheaper than iPads or laptops. Surely the key reasons for using any tool should be the ones you have listed above and
    1. Giving better access to people and information
    2. Developing / making possible the use of higher order thinking skills
    3. Enabling collaboration and communication

    This only applies to students though, because as teachers, we all need iPads, preferably supplied by the Ministry and we will be soooo motivated by them that we will become super-teachers overnight. Right?

    There is also the danger that anyone feeling a particular technology is not as great as sliced bead, might feel that they are risking being thought of as a Luddite for saying so.

  2. Hi Emma
    I enjoyed the visit to your class a few weeks ago. Well done in having a strong vision and setting up the learning environment.

    I very much agree with your comments. If a teacher merely replaces a computer (or any digital device) with the class workbook and makes no change to the way the curriculum is being delivered, then one has to question its purpose. By bringing a new device into the classroom and continuing to do the same as in the past, will not bring change to the student’s learning (but there may be some excitement about the new device until the novelty dies down – and then a new device has to be sought). It starts with the teacher’s own teaching philosophy and how the teacher engages the students in their learning. The devices are there to support the learning in and out of the classroom and not the other way round.

    We have brought in 1:1 computing (BYOD) this year. But before we could go down this road, we (as a staff) had to have a better understanding of what learning looks like in today’s environment to know what changes needed to be made – not only in the classroom, but within our school environment and culture(i.e. “the whats & whys” or our vision & mission). At first we did not quite know what this “teaching & learning” would look like – to read and hear about it was one thing, but to actually take the risk by going out of one’s comfort zone to do it was another thing. The past 18 months we had to challenge everything about ourselves as we continue to discover “the how” along with our children.

    And do we want to go back? No.

    1. At the risk of turning this into an on-line discussion, the other issue that this highlights is the so called “digital divide”, which is quite well entrenched in NZ. Our staff work across the North island from North Cape to Taupo and there are many areas where electricity in homes is not a given, let alone any kind of digital technology. Our staff visit many homes where there is not even a phone line to have the internet on, even if any kind of broadband were available in the area. Mobile data speeds are a bad joke and if you can only afford a mobile prepaid phone to call the 0800 numbers, you certainly won’t be doing mobile data any time soon.

      That leaves the schools and the publilibrariesys in the area as small islands of connectivity – when the rural roll out eventually gets to them. The focus then has to be pedagogy, as the toys don’t work.

  3. Kia ora Emma
    I really enjoy reading your blogs. I couldn’t agree more with this one about using all the fun “toys” and not getting carried away by the whizz bang and therefore forgetting about the learning. So much that happens in schools is still about “downloading” rather than encouraging creativity.
    Keep up the fantastic work with your students and their growing self directed learning!

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