Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just Press Enter...

I've done a lot of looking around lately. I've worked in the business world, and I've worked in education for quite some time. What I've seen as I've stopped, and sometimes stared, are people using their smartphones, laptops, desktop computers and now tablet devices to be productive in their jobs, communicate, and make collaborative decisions about work and family life.

People live their mobile lives connected to mobile devices and mobile people. That's how we all work, play, and learn. If that is how we work, play and learn the question truly becomes why should technology not be integrated into the classroom? Why should it not mirror business so students can become work-ready, and mirror society, so students can become active civic participants?

I fully understand in tough economic times that technology in the hands of students are equity and money issues, but look around away from your schools and you'll see students from elementary ages through adulthood already using devices of their own, working and participating in online endeavors, living online lives. Like any other tool, technology in the classroom has to be integrated from not just a functional perspective, but also a safety and ethical perspective. Otherwise, the issue becomes a double-edged sword. It can be an avenue to truly engaging learning experiences, or a trail leading down some very negative paths with potentially some very serious consequences.

A research report entitled "Teens Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites" released November 9th by The Pew Internet and American Life Project stated "95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites." Students are weaving their way through the world wide web wilderness with or without guidance or education about safety, ethical, and health issues. Knowing this, we cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand.

Our students need to come out of schools not only knowing how to use technologies, but also how to participate appropriately as informed global digital citizens who can filter the masses of information with which they are bombarded. Media literacy is essential so it should be woven into every lesson using any type of researched resource.

So what does technology integration look like in a well-functioning classroom? As I see it, technology offers three exceptional benefits - the ability to explore, the ability to inform and reform thoughts, and the ability to create responses to what is explored and learned. It's a reciprocal relationship centered around the content. The tools just become part and parcel of the content we are teaching.

Tools will change as technology changes, but the ability to use it to acquire and manipulate information quickly, prompt to think, rethink, analyze, synthesize, and create will always be part of the human experience. We are curious and social by nature, and technology has tapped into those human drives. Successfully integrated technology into classroom learning experiences doesn't make the devices invisible, but they're not the centerpiece of the learning experience. (Photo by Brad Flickinger via a creative commons license)

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