This post also appears in the current edition of the BC College of Teachers TC Magazine (here)
Never before have teachers faced challenges such as those created by continually evolving information technologies. Five years ago, we found it difficult to imagine the concept of touch-screen computers, yet today the word “apps” is part of the vocabulary of our pre-schoolers. And many of our children are entering school completely at ease with computer technology, having the technical skills to create digital videos and participate in virtual spaces that were foreign to the generation that went before them.
Students’ technical expertise must be nurtured and supported by their teachers. Yet our challenge as educators is far greater than simply staying up to date with advances in information technologies. We need to make sure our educational system creates environments to engage technically adept students, and that we use technology in our professional practice to support our students as critical thinkers, lifelong learners and ethical decision makers.
Across our province and around the world, educators are wrestling with the implications of personally owned devices, coming to grips with the role for social media in education, and having rich debates on issues that speak to the core values of our system, including safety and equity. The increasing pace at which technology is evolving has also fostered an ongoing reflection on what the latest changes mean for our profession and what lies in store for the next decade.
Without question, our profession is evolving. We are connecting across roles and geographies in new ways using blogs and Twitter. We’ve shifted from seeing technology as a way to support distance learning to looking for ways to make blended learning part of every student’s educational experience. And we are beginning to move beyond being excited about the tools themselves to looking for ways we can best use these tools to support learning goals and good pedagogy.
As a profession, we need to take a critical look at the structure and content of teacher training programs. It is simply no longer acceptable for someone to enter our profession without some degree of digital literacy. Teachers entering our system need to know the how of using the tools and also the why. They need to apply their reflective and critical thinking skills to the digital space. I expect that the new teachers we hire into our schools will understand the suite of tools available to them, know how to model their use and be able to choose the appropriate tools to match learning objectives.
I also expect new teachers to enter the profession with a mindset that the digital tools they are using now will likely be different a year from now. That is the way it should be, for it is not really about the tools themselves, but about the learning, which requires matching the best tools of the day to the process. These are not easy tasks, but they are essential.
And some specifics for teacher training programs? Teacher education programs need to include a course on the history, philosophy and practical use of educational technology. Educational technology learning at teacher colleges should be grounded in research, pedagogy and the use of current technologies. Finally, technology should be taught to teachers in ways that are consistent with how we would like teachers to teach students in their classes.
For those in the system, we need to commit to embedding technology and digital literacy in our growth plans and in all our ongoing professional development. Employers need to support teachers in the use of technology throughout their careers. This must go beyond the superficial. We must acknowledge that replacing lectures with digital lectures or online videos simply substitutes one mediocre practice for another. I have been in far too many classrooms where interactive whiteboards were a source of entertainment that facilitated “fake-learning” and did not truly support student learning.
Technology is no longer an event, and “computer lab” is no longer a course. Digital tools are being used to support literacy, numeracy, social responsibility and the full gamut of goals in our system. To be relevant, engaging and current, we need to be committed in how we prepare teachers and how we support them throughout their careers in the thoughtful and purposeful infusion of technology into their professional practice.
There are wonderful examples across Canada of education faculties embracing these ideals, and of districts, schools and classrooms across BC trying to figure out a better way to use technology every day.
I like the saying that when it comes to teachers and technology it is okay to be where you are, it is just not okay to stay there.