Labor Day weekend – the last bit of summer vacation before the school year gets going. My kids are grown now. I don’t pick out their first day of school outfits and I don’t take snapshots of them waving goodbye as they get on the bus. I still do, however, have a role in coaching them through the rough spots of their education – a tough homework assignment, a course load that needs some creative juggling, and sticking with a particular professor, even if his opening presentation detailed the assessment rubric instead of sharing content and objectives. Even if it wasn’t exactly scintillating the class is a requirement for graduation and every educational encounter doesn’t need to be dazzling and entertaining.
Or does it? In the 21st century, when Web2.0 animates everything we look at, I can’t help but feel frustration about an education experience today that isn’t dynamic, compelling and engaging. Putting aside for the moment, the dollars I spend to buy private education and the expectation that I’m buying a cut above, how is it possible that in 2011 there are teachers that aren’t motivating students to be creative thinkers, to analyze ideas, and to apply new information innovatively and collaboratively in authentic, real-world settings. What does it mean that there are educators that aren’t differentiating instruction to accommodate individual students’ needs and are instead delivering a one-size fits all syllabus.
The New York Times, in an article about technology and education, questioned how impactful edtech integration has been in raising assessment scores relative to the number of dollars being spent. “To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”
So what gives?
Learning is a confluence of many factors. Joseph Schwab, the 20th century educational theorist perhaps best known for his “scathing critique of curriculum theories that fail education” introduced “efforts to refocus curriculum studies on practice, especially in the classroom” through his notion of “commonplaces.” He argued that the interconnected components of learner, teacher, subject matter and social-cultural milieu needed to be balanced and coordinated – together with a fifth commonplace “curriculum specialist” in order to deliver a dynamic and successful curriculum, and by extension, in order for successful learning to take place.
There are many who can better discuss Schwab’s contributions to education than I am able to, but I can’t help but focus on the role of the teacher and wonder if s/he doesn’t carry a bigger burden of responsibility toward realizing successful learning.
We remember, only too well, the lesson on Voodoo economics from the 1986 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off movie, but for many students today this is no spoof – it is their reality.
Bad teaching is bad teaching, with or without Web 2.0 and edtech tools. It follows then, that good teaching is good teaching with or without Web 2.0 and edtech tools. But, the opportunities and possibilities that Web 2.0 affords – the collaborations and conversations that are made more readily available because of technology – the opportunities to experiment, hypothesize and analyze results in virtual spaces without leaving the classroom – the limitless ways of using visual and auditory prompts to support, extend and advance the learning all seem to me to point to education with Web 2.0 can be infinitely better than without.
But educators need to learn how to incorporate edtech effectively and need time to adopt and adapt to this new way. Students today are digital natives learning from educators who are digital immigrants. Too many teachers live in their native Web 1.0 world even as technology has advanced their students to Web 2.0 and beyond.
When my parents waved me off to school on my first day, I was oblivious to my father’s Hungarian accent. Maybe that’s why I didn’t notice at the time, that many of my teachers had the same accent. Looking back on my own schooling, I realize that the most effective teachers were those that engaged my curiosity, encouraged my questions, and recognized my uniqueness – in accented English or not. In those ways they already had become new-age teachers.
Let’s learn the lessons of those that came before us.