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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Teachers Value Increases with Technology

I heard a story the other day about a man who slipped a disk when he was young and had extensive surgery resulting in a six inch scar and a six month recovery period (and a whole year out of PE!).  Ten or so years later, he slipped another disk.  This time the surgery was not as extensive, the scar not as long and the recovery period was shortened to a week or so.  Recently a friend of his had the same surgery.  This time it was out-patient, a half-inch incision and back to work two days later.  We all know that there have been great advances in medicine through the wonders of technology, but even more amazing was all three surgeries were by the same doctor.   Of course, we expect our doctors to keep up with all the latest techniques and technology – or be the target of malpractice suits.

The gentleman telling the story (and main character) was Jon Landis, a former educator and Development Executive with Apple Inc. at the recent NJAET conference.  Although I may not have gotten all the details of his story perfect, I did get the point.  His point was that technology has drastically changed the way that we all work and learn.  Teaching is no different.  Technology is not replacing us but making us more valuable.  We cannot stay in the classroom and ignore the communication revolution that is all around us.
Landis pointed out that "your value as a teacher is no longer your ability to deliver content, content is free, content is ubiquitous, content is good."  We may have been replaced as content providers,  however, our job is even more important now.  Students need to be able to digest content, not just spit it back out.  We need to help our students understand the context, take it apart, and reassemble it into relevant connections and original thought.  No easy task.

He is right, of course, content is ubiquitous.  One need only look at the various free offerings from Kahn Academy (over 3000 videos to “Watch. Practice. Learn almost anything for free.”) or through iTunes U (with a growing library of courses and the ability to create your own) to see the overwhelming amount of content our students hold in the palm of their hand.  Class time, then, needs to become the time that students “play” with the content, contextualize, collaborate, apply and synthesize.
This is where having a good grasp on strategies to get our students thinking critically and creatively comes in to play.  We need to become the problem person, not the answer person.  Our classes need to be creative, with hands-on activities and engaging discourse.  I have found that online discussion platforms strengthen engaging discourse by democratizing conversations, allowing every student an equal opportunity to contribute.  These discussions can engage students in powerful ways, providing rich introductions or extensions to course content.

There is great power in using TED talks and activities to get students thinking about further applications and connections to course content.  Integrating tools such as SCAN (with the built in critical thinking strategy and representing different perspectives) and Collaborize Classroom  (with a full library of higher level thinking activities and interactive discussions) gives our students the opportunity to take an active role in their learning and provides teachers with a simple to implement lesson upgrade.

The bottom line is that, we, as teachers need to embrace the technology (As Landis stated “the internet is not a fad”) and adjust accordingly.  Just like our students, we need the time to “play” with all of the great content we receive on good teaching, time to practice, collaborate, and upgrade our lessons.  Start with some simple tools, one lesson or unit, one homework assignment, but get started.


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  2. Awesome post! I can't wait to share this with some other teachers!

    1. Thanks! I am sure your teachers will appreciate it.