Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hurry Up: The Natives are Restless

The biggest change in education today has nothing to do with legislation, reforms, or even the way we have taught the past 20 years. The biggest change in education today is our students. Today’s learners have been dubbed as digital natives (Prensky, 2001). They come from a generation where they have grown up with technology. They, in essence, were digitally born. Research indicates that these learners have a completely different physiological brain which makes them hungry for a digital age that transcends the classroom.

Classroom teachers are playing catch up with the computer literacies of their students and they on the other hand are considered digital immigrants. Teachers must learn this new language and how to relate to the new brains they are teaching.

With the 21st Century upon us, now is a critical time for the Instructional Technology Facilitator to be considered a vital member of school leadership. The 21st Century Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF) skillfully helps teachers build their toolbox of technology resources all the while providing instructional leadership in a variety of ways. The ITF should have a remarkable understanding of Web 2.0 and multimedia tools as well as be able to:

· Demonstrate lessons that maximize student learning
· Provide a wealth of instructional resources
· Model effective research-based instructional practices
· Use 21st century skills to enhance learning
· Analyze data to inform and plan instruction
· Collaborate with teachers to integrate 21st Century literacy rich content instruction

Studies show that technology can increase student achievement if used effectively by teachers who have received appropriate technology training (Wenglinsky, 2008). This implies that with the right training, teachers can use Web 2.0 and multimedia resources as instructional tools to increase student achievement.

Unfortunately, professional development days are filled with meetings, speakers, etc., leaving little time for teachers to become adequately familiar with a particular program/software, let alone create materials that would be useful in the classroom. Consequently, the few skills that are learned are quickly forgotten and little change is made on instructional practice. Research indicates that most teachers lack the confidence to use technology to its fullest potential (Rosen & Weil, 2005). The result is a lost opportunity to improve student performance. The implementation of technology into daily classroom instruction must begin with sustainable teacher training.

For over twenty years the U.S. Department of Education has been studying the use of computers and technology in our schools. These studies examine how well computers are used for teaching and learning. In particular, there is a need to determine the contributors and obstacles for successful integration of computers into regular classroom instruction. The reports conclude that teachers like technology and have a desire to integrate it into their classrooms, but often do not have the skills to do so. The U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported that ". . . most teachers graduate with limited knowledge of the ways technology can be used in their profession" (Office of Technology Assessment, 2005, p.174). Other studies (Thorsen & Barr, 2007) also list lack of time as a major obstacle in planning for the use of technology. Lack of pedagogical skills combined with limited expertise with hardware makes it nearly impossible to take full advantage of computers as an instructional tool beyond the most superficial uses.

Properly trained Technology Facilitators can prove to be a valuable tool for teachers given adequate time to train and retrain teachers to integrate teaching of technology tools with teaching of the curriculum. Teaching the tools alone does not provide a meaningful approach for teachers to make relevant connections to their curriculums. Teachers need this resource.

A well versed curriculum oriented Instructional Technology Professional should be considered a meaningful part of leadership in our schools in the 21st Century as we begin to think creatively about cultivating a 21st Century Professional Learning Community that integrates research based pedagogy with the tools of technology.

Hurry up: the Natives are restless!

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