Constructing a New Age of Teaching

The dawn of a new era in the classroom is here. The world is more connected now than it ever has been before. So why hasn’t the educational system kept pace and changed alongside?

As a United States citizen, it is well known that college tuition is downright unaffordable for the majority of the population. I was flipping through a college information booklet the other day and on average tuition to a standard (not a top) university was approximately 35-40 thousand dollars A YEAR. ¬†Even with financial aid and scholarships, I would imagine many graduates are facing between 50-100 thousand dollars in student loans to begin paying back. Not only that, but a college undergraduate degree definitely does not guarantee you anything anymore. There isn’t necessarily a job awaiting you simply because you have that certificate. I know that post-secondary education altogether is another issue, but if students after high school AND even after college aren’t prepared for the changes in the world today, what are we doing wrong as educators?

So what are these changes in the world today? This is of course a complex question, and one that cannot be answered simply. As an educator, one of the predominant shifts I have noticed over the course of my lifetime is the influx of information, especially the ability to access information by way of new technology. I would not hesitate to say that learning itself has changed due to the rise in technology today. The problem is that our educational constructs have not changed accordingly to incorporate this notion. Instead of speculating why this hasn’t happened, which I believe in some regards isn’t entirely beneficial, I believe that we should rather look forward and determine what we can do to change this.

It is apparent that knowledge and access to information is growing exponentially. According to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD), “the amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years, and is now doubling every 18 months.” This is huge! The ASTD continues to explain that “to combat the shrinking half-life of knowledge, organizations have been forced to develop new methods of deploying instruction.” This is exactly what schools should be doing. It is no longer practical to focus on teaching merely content to students. Anyone with access to the internet can find answers to content questions. Instead, educators should be concentrating on how best to teach students to search for and find information, and then decipher what information is quality information. I believe that George Siemens said it best in his article on Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age with when explaining significant trends in learning. He stated that “know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where.” I would take this a step further and add “know-why this” or better stated, “why know this?” The world is continually changing, and in turbulent times students who understand the significance of information and can effectively place this information into a global context, will be better prepared.

Throughout my journey in the COETAIL class, I have been exposed to a variety of new ideas, classroom tech tools, as well as strategies. I guess what I have started to synthesize is that maybe as educators, we should simulate the challenges of the “real world” to that of the classroom. Students should become more and more responsible for their own learning and become more adept at independently finding and applying information. I also like the notion that it should be challenging. That means that students shouldn’t always succeed at a task given. Possibly the learning process could be of more importance that the actual end product. This in itself is a more modern approach to education today. Another modern approach to education is the idea of connectivism. This learning theory is best described by George Siemens as:

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements- not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”

I believe that this last bit is incredibly relevant to today. If information is changing at such a rapid rate, and access to information is a non-issue, then the ability to find specialized information is what is significant. If individuals are able to find pertinent, specialized information best through their connections (which by the way may not necessarily be a teacher), then the ability to best connect in a digital age is what should be taught. Social networking is everywhere. 250 million people use Facebook. 27 million people in the US alone use Twitter. Networking for employment has also increased. 34 million people visit LinkedIn. Again, the world is increasingly becoming more and more connected, and at an exponential rate. The way we prepare students for these continual changes should reflect the world outside of the classroom. It is no wonder that teachers all over the world are becoming more and more connected themselves (through blogging, Tweets, professional learning networks online), but also within the classroom.

My husband, who is studying international development has been reading the book, The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. He is thoroughly enjoying it, but knowing that I am part of this COETAIl course, he shared with me an entry that describes in detail what some teachers are doing through the Flat Classroom Project. Basically it describes two teachers, one at an international school in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the other at a school in Georgia, USA who decided to show what happens when the world is flat and collaboration can take place thousands of miles apart. Students from these schools were given the task to create a Wiki page together, focusing on one of the flatteners from the World is Flat book. After 6 weeks and usage from a plethera of tech tools (RSS feeds, VoIP, Skype, IM chat, MySpace, Evoca, YouTube, Google Video, Dropload, and others) it was completed, and apparently it went pretty well. After reflection from the teachers involved (Julie Lindsay and Vickie Davis),  here are some of the thoughts they wanted to share:

“This project also created friendships across the world and promoted a cultural understanding that is needed in our world today. We may be from opposite sides of the world, but our students became one class tethered by invisible strings and bytes.”

” Students are hungering for meaningful connections with one another…This ability to connect has largely been ignored and blocked by many in the educational community who would rather maintain an entrenched style of a classroom that has been around for over a hundred of years.”

According to these teachers on the forefront of constructing a new age of teaching, a more meaningful age, students are asking for these connections. So, let’s give it to them. Let’s provide them with the tech skills, the social skills, the collaborative skills along with the same ole’ content. The world is flat, and so should the classroom. This is in part what Connectivism is all about. As Lindsay and Davis said it best about what is taking place in the world, but always in the classrooms, “We’ve connected the technology; now it’s time to connect the people.”

 

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4 Responses to Constructing a New Age of Teaching

  1. Hi Jillian,
    It’s a shame that I was sick and missed the final session of our course 4. However, your blog post gave a nice recap and a good insight on the discussion on ‘connectivism’ and the new way of teaching.

    You posed a very bold question ” what are we doing wrong as educators?”, I am sure many of us are trying to figure that out. Personally I think educators are doing their best but it’s the system we are in that makes the situation a bit tricky. In education, we are evolving in this constant transformation as new knowledge is formed everyday. Nevertheless I think the future is still promising if teachers see themselves as lifelong learners/students, and are willing to accept changes and adapt their teaching methods to keep up with the 21st century learning environment. That could be one right thing to do! :)

    As long as educators are aware that traditional teaching practices will not work in this modern learning era that knowledge is growing exponentially, we are heading the right path. The notion that “know-where” is now more important than “know-how” is a breakthrough revelation and I am interested to see how that will change the way school curriculum is constructed in a tangible sense. It is going to be an evolution in the way students will be assessed academically etc.

    I shared the same academic background with your husband as I studied International Development for my Masters as well. And yes the world is flat! We are all connected in all levels from macro one i.e. global economy to a smaller scales like between schools.

    Take a look at this article:
    link to coetail.asia This is a recap of what my IT teacher at Berkeley is doing with her students from different grade levels, in her attempt to connect her classrooms with the world (in this case, back to the US). It is amazing how technology can help creating this new learning landscape for students in this generation.

  2. Jillian,

    Sadly, there are a few issues preventing us from moving forward or even keeping up with the change you mention. One has to be control. The education sector of our economy seems to have a great problem with giving up the control it has over what we learn, where we learn it, and how much it is going to cost for us to be ‘educated’. We may have hit the ‘perfect storm’ in terms of improving digital technology, alternative forms of learning, and the skyrocketing costs of post-secondary tuition that you mentioned. It is simply not sustainable.

    Another issue is tradition. Change is hard and most people are reluctant if not scared to change. People like the idea of having children sent to one place every day while they go to work. They also like that they generally know the environment that their children will be learning. Goals of going to post secondary institution are still considered valuable and realistic. It is a seemingly easy and predictable path. But what happens if things don’t go as planned? Imagine spending all that money to find out you aren’t employable? Beside the issue I have with universities being perceived as job factories, many will be downright distraught if not angry that what was implied (getting a job after graduation) does not become reality. Protests about such outcomes are surely to be on the horizon.

    I live in hope that all the people trying to improve education (as Bel mentioned) are successful, but, sadly, I really see the next change being a disruptive one. Any idea where I might find my next job? :)

    Excellent post.

  3. Jason Reilly says:

    It’s crazy to think that the US is creating so much debt for newly graduated students. Even if they had a job waiting for them, what chance do they have? I enjoyed this post and I had to wonder about what connections are made between secondary schools and universities. If we as educators do address what we are doing wrong and focus on creating real life problems for students I agree we will better prepare them for the real world. But then.. they hit university. Where chalk and talk lecture style is the normal mode of delivery and the hard work of the highschool teachers beforehand appears lost. While universities still require exam scores, extended essays, multitude of community service hours.. again I have to ask what chance do we have as teachers to really make a difference. Change has to happen and I am changing. But in a perfect world it should come from the top down. I do believe it is happening but those circumstances are the exception not the rule. An recent example is a cousin of mine in Australia. He recently left school mid-year, 16 years of age as he and his parents decided that the school system was not the best fit for him (brave move from the parents). He applied for an apprenticeship with a government engineering department because while he struggled with Math and English at school he could build the most amazingly complex machines. Naturally he was rejected for the apprenticeship because the standard levels of qualifications needed was a highschool graduation certificate. His mum didn’t give up and filmed my cousin making and talking through one of his machines. He was offered an interview the following week and began his apprenticeship the week after. Again, an exception to the rule but when higher establishments begin to look at admissions in a different way then change can really happen.

    • Avatar of jilliann jilliann says:

      I agree with you. When looking towards secondary education, I believe that they are definitely not leading the way at all. I too agree that a top down systematic approach is ideal, but I also believe that it has to start somewhere. I have long thought that the university system could use some revamping. I know that university professors are experts in their field, but can they teach? I don’t think that there is any prerequisite class to becoming a professor in the field of teacher training; they just have to have a doctorate in their field of study. That is why I am not sure it is even fair for us to look to post-secondary education to be at the forefront, but this is also the problem. Universities have large endowments as well as time set aside for research. The common high school teacher does not (especially in the US), and they are given higher expectations for their students’ performance. This is not fair at all. I know many universities are encouraging professors to keep stride with the digital age and are offering faculty IPad’s as far as various learning initiatives, but this means they are just trying to catch up. This can be seen as well by the way in which many professors continue to teach the old fashioned way ( the sage on the stage) by lecturing. Whose responsibility is it then to lead the way? It is a good question that is hard to answer.

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