I made two fatal miscalculations in my last article for BayBuzz.

The first was assuming my husband wouldn’t read it, given that he featured in what he would subsequently view as an unflattering light. A born again cyclist, he never reads a magazine that hasn’t got some Tour de France hero in lycra on the front. I had reckoned without his friends (who told him to read it) and the internet (to which he marched in high dudgeon to see what all the fuss was about … and then
made a fuss).

My second mistake was randomly selecting algebra as the butt of my “we need to keep school relevant to the world of work” sermon. The very day after I had triumphantly sent off my final version to BayBuzz, I attended a meeting in Wellington regarding some very interesting national work being done on matching current NCEA standards to five vocational pathways. The employer and industry groups who are working on this project all selected algebra as a “compulsory” area of knowledge for any young person wanting to work in their respective professions!

Did I tell my mathematics teacher husband? No. But no doubt he’ll read this anyway … see above.

In an attempt to restore my credibility, I thought I would focus on a different educational challenge this time: how on earth can teachers, schools and tertiary organizations keep up with our kids when it comes to using technology in teaching and learning?

I saw a great cartoon about this recently. A doting Dad asks his 3 year old how his first day at kindergarten went. “Stink” says the toddler, “they didn’t even have Wi-Fi!!”

Even if they did have Wi-Fi – would the staff have known what it was, let alone how to use it? Actually, based on some very unscientific and anecdotal information I’ve been receiving about this, if we’re talking early childhood sector, and primary school, the answer is probably yes. Children are utilising technology in mind-boggling ways in their earlier years at school, which is a real credit to them and
to their teachers.

Secondary and tertiary organizations are now scrambling to keep up with these children as they come through into their respective domains.

But let’s back-track a little. You might have heard the terms ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’. Our young people are digital natives. Most of them have grown up with technology, and digital natives in fact see technology as an extension of themselves. They are very comfortable using a variety of devices at once (you’ve probably marveled at your teenager using a cell phone, i-pod, and computer simultaneously). And they prefer to get their information from a range of preferably visual and audio sources – when they want it and not when someone feels like dishing it out to them in a photocopied handout.

Digital Natives in action.

Additionally, digital natives apparently thrive on living their lives in the public eye – witness the uptake of Facebook and Twitter – whereas I would rather rip my hair out than share anything personal with who knows what in cyber-space!

Digital immigrants, on the other hand, are those of us for whom technology is something we have had to adopt and learn to use. And yes at the moment it tends to be the more mature of us who fit this category. Given that the teaching profession is mainly made up of ‘mature’ digital immigrants like me, it is within the education sector that the impact of this digital divide is most readily seen, resulting in the relevance of the traditional role of the teacher being actively challenged.

Once the fount of all knowledge, teachers now compete with technologies that allow students not only to access knowledge when they feel like it, but to contribute to it with other people. And if, like me, you are cynical about the results of co-created knowledge, apparently more errors have been found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica than in a recent study of Wikipedia – contributed to by random people all over the world!

Apple’s envoy to the tertiary sector, Stephen Atherton, voices concerns about limitations placed on the creative use of technology by school policies and procedures. Yet cell-phones and unfettered internet access can cause lots of headaches for schools and tertiary organizations to deal with. As Principal of a secondary school some years ago now, I banned cell-phones, for example, because I saw their potential for nefarious things such as text bullying.

What I failed to realise then was that banning things because they are problematic and a distraction to learning from the perspective of a digital immigrant such as myself, only enhances the perceived irrelevance of school versus real life for many of our digital natives. For young people, the exciting stuff going on in their cell-phones and computers must surely render textbooks and sequential learning something to be suffered through, rather than actively engaged with.

So how can educational institutions actively recognise technology as an extension of their young people’s lives, and harness it as part of their teaching and learning processes?

Well, many already do. Current professional development for teachers is now addressing these very issues. In today’s world it’s blindingly obvious that teachers can’t and don’t know everything. The concept of a teacher as a facilitator of learning, rather than the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ is now widely accepted in education circles.

So there’s a revolution going on in some schools, and a quieter evolution in others. Student ‘tech angels’ roam the corridors assisting teachers to utilise technology in their classes. Course information is available and continually updated for some students 24 hours a day online. Students text teachers at all hours of the day and night about their learning and assessments. Web-based applications that allow students to work on a  project together are becoming commonplace. Blogs and on-line forums keep kids connected to their studies even when they’re not at school.

A number of Hawke’s Bay schools have been involved in professional development “clusters” where teachers from across different schools are trained in the use of educational technologies. Innovative teachers can showcase their work to other schools. Schools can purchase technology equipment en masse, and work together on protocols for their use. These schools have banded together to form video-conferencing links that allow specialist teachers in, say, Physics, to teach students from a number of different schools, within and out of Hawke’s Bay. And students from different schools from across different schools are trained in the use of educational technologies. Innovative teachers can showcase their work to other schools. Schools can purchase technology equipment en masse, and work together on protocols for their use. These schools have banded together to form video-conferencing links that allow specialist teachers in, say, Physics, to teach students from a number of different schools, within and out of Hawke’s Bay. And students from different schools have been able to learn together on-line utilising web-based links amongst the cluster schools.

Even the concept of where learning occurs – at school, or online, or in the community, or in a blend of all three – is up for discussion and debate. Sure, some schools and tertiary organisations are further down the road than others with all this, but those who are focused on engaging today’s young people in education are committed to the journey.

There is so much more to be thought about and debated with regard to this topic. Questions about equity of access to technology for all children, for example, are good ones and can best be answered by the  increasing numbers of low decile schools successfully using technology to re-engage children in the learning process. Even the examination system is being considered for a technological revolution. As these ideas evolve, one thing is certain.

Technology gives us a wonderful opportunity to reframe education; to develop our young people’s ability to think critically about the knowledge they access, filter it, and apply it to the myriad new challenges arising in the world today. Our schools and tertiary organizations provide a great environment for digital natives and immigrants alike to work on this together, and in doing so make a real contribution to the development of their local and global communities.

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