As I look out onto the frontier of teaching in the 21st century, the pursuit of a degree in educational technology could not be better timed. “The world is open” says Curtis Bonk (2009) and through the power of web technologies we are experiencing a revolution in education and a “flattening of the classroom” (Warlick, Davis, & Lindsay, 2008).
Some of the initial reasons for enrolling in a master's program were similar to those expressed by my colleagues during those first days of introduction: To meet required professional development; to advance on the pay scale (#1 for many); and to re-invigorate my teaching skills and ideas. Now, as I rapidly approach its end, a new motivation has been added to the list – my role as a “change facilitator” has emerged (Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall, 1987). While the courses taken have exposed us to a wide variety of educational technologies, and ideas for implementation in our classrooms, some prominent themes have developed for me that I would like to discuss here.
One of the initial themes was the concept of a digital divide or participation gap, which has entered into class discussions on many occasions. In its simplest definition it is the haves and the have-nots when it comes to owning, or even having habitual access to digital technology. The participation gap takes it one step further and states that while you might have access to a computer (say at the local library or while at school), but are you able to be an active participant in the creation of information that is occurring on the internet. In order for this to occur, you must have more unfettered access, with the ability to contribute to the collective knowledge being amassed on the web.
In one of my earlier reflection papers written during my coursework – Digital Divide: Mind the Gap (Long, 2008) – I argued that the lofty goal of a society to value the advancement of all its citizenry, not just the few of affluence, is what we must strive for if we are ever to close these gaps. I find it astonishing now, as I reflect on this idea, how it appears that we are becoming much closer to this goal than I believed a mere year ago. The cost of storage, processing power, computers and bandwidth continues to drop, putting computers into the hands of more people, and the growth of open source, internet based programming is making it easier and easier for the masses to participate in the creation and sharing of knowledge – which alludes to another emerging theme.
Before I address that idea, however, it is appropriate to discuss another theme which continues to hinder advances in educational technology. Most troubling to me is this theme of a general resistance to change that is witnessed by many educational institutions – specifically public education. Many reassure themselves saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but when you step back and look, you see that what is working is an old jalopy that is held together with bailing wire and bubble gum. Sure it works, but is it the energy efficient hybrid car we are able to produce today? While this analogy might seem extreme, it expresses my frustration when faced with the tremendous inertia towards shifting schools into the 21st century. Which I might add, is now ten years old.
In part, this resistance comes from teachers and parents who are concerned about attempting to use tools (technology) that they are unfamiliar with, and about which their students likely know more. They don't want to appear ignorant in the face of the students. Mark Prensky describes a phenomenon known as the “digital natives” (students – born into digital technology) vs. the “digital immigrants” (adults – having learned about digital technology later in life). In addition, schools and teachers, he says, face “antitechnology pressures demanding schools go back to basics” (Prensky, 2005).
In addition, there is the reality that advances in technology are happening so rapidly, that we cannot hope to keep up. I have experienced disappointment in a few of my Lesley courses where this was evident. The instructors perhaps had not taught the class in several years (on one occasion more than 5 years, which in today's technology world is an eternity), and had not kept up with changes in the technology they were attempting to teach. It was a clear case of digital natives (students), teaching the digital immigrant (teacher). For these instructors it was not a resistance to change, but simply an inability to keep up. In these instances, the learning I gained was only through my own investigation. Is this were public education is headed? Students learn in spite of their teachers not from them.
Another resistance factor which I have witnessed during my own teaching is the apprehension of parents and co-workers who are just not sure about letting students utilize technology. For parents, it's often the fact that they hear too much negative publicity on the news about cyber predators, etc., and seldom the positive examples of students using technology to learn about and partake in the global society. For teachers, however, it is more often unfamiliarity with technology, and a lack of understanding about how these tools can make student learning more relevant and appropriate for their future. Although, I have experienced teachers who also base their apprehension on sensational media reporting instead of sound practice – such as the examples reported in journals such as Edutopia. The only way out of this predicament is through education. Not education for the students (though this is important too), but for parents, teachers, and administrators. This is where my new role as change facilitator comes in – but more on that in the end.
Moving on to the theme I alluded to earlier in my opening paragraphs, which is more than a theme, but an answer to the digital divide, participation gap question and the potential salvation of public education once we figure out how to embrace it. “When it comes to the sharing and dissemination of educational content, we are witnessing one of the most exciting periods in human history” (Bonk, 2009, pg 177). As he says, “the world is open,” the internet and web technologies have truly brought about a “revolution in education.” Throughout each of my Lesley courses, the resources discussed and made available through web technologies was a dominant theme.
This is in contrast to earlier technology in schools which was a simple workstation, or lab of computers with a few software applications loaded on them for students to use in isolation. The variety of programs available to students was limited to the budget of the schools and what they could afford to buy and install on each machine. Now, with web technologies and Web 2.0, the workstations are no longer isolated, but are connected to an infinite amount of resources along with a global learning community. The software programs students use to interact, and create with are becoming more and more a free web-based application versus purchased software programs.
The educational resources made available to teachers and students continue to grow at an astounding rate. Programming such as Linux and Open Office of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) along with the massive efforts of groups like Google that are creating Cloud Computing platforms were applications and files are run and stored not on the workstation, but in the internet cloud, continue to dominate the horizon. Combine this with resources provided through organizations such as the Open Educational Resources (OER), a virtual clearinghouse of education information, and the Open Course Ware Consortium (OCWC), through which universities have made all of its courses available for free online viewing. Prestigious institutions such as M.I.T., Yale and Tufts, just to mention a few of the U.S. based universities, as the list continues to grow and become more global. At the heart of these organization it is all about sharing. “We are in a brave new world, where content is made available to use and share” (OER). In these few examples, we see that there are many who have figured out how to embrace this future and are well on the road (or highway in their hybrid more aptly) to achieving it. I predict that public education will find it place here as well.
This brings me to my final theme and conclusion. We have discussed it in every class, and it has become ever more apparent to me – it takes someone, a driving force to precipitate change. In part, that is why we all signed up for these classes. The educational landscape (especially the students) is ready for change, and facilitators for change are needed.
In the beginning, the goals for completing my graduate education were simpler – credits, salary and personal inspiration. Now, my ambitions and professional expectations have mapped out a new, more challenging course. Already I have managed to create a new position at our district, and moved from the classroom to working as a technology facilitator. As a teacher, I realize that support is needed to implement new ideas, and I was able to convince our administrators of this. My job as the Technology and Learning Coordinator is to assist and show the way for teachers to begin using technology in their classrooms. Working as a classroom teacher I affected only those students in my class, now I have the potential to reach every student.
Bonk, C. J. (2009). The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Friedman, T. (2005). The World is Flat. New York, NY: Pan Books Ltd.
Hord, S., Rutherford, W., Huling-Austin, L., & Hall, G. E. (1987). Taking Charge of Change. Alexandria, VA: ASCD Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Long, C. (2008, March). Digital divide: Mind the Gap. Retrieved May 2009, from NEA Today: http://www.nea.org/home/9302.htm
OCWC. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 12, 2009, from Open Courseware Consortium: http://www.ocwconsortium.org/
OER. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 12, 2009, from Open Educational Resources Commons: http://www.oercommons.org/
OSI. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 13, 2009, from Open Source Initiative: http://www.opensource.org/
Prensky, M. (2005, December). Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/adopt-and-adapt
Warlick, D., Davis, V., & Lindsay, J. (2008, April 21). Flat Classroom. Retrieved October 3, 2009, from Wikispaces: http://www.flatclassrooms.com/