Teaching to Tech-Savvy Students
By Robert Schroeder
Today's advertising culture tells us that fast and ultraconnected is better. Without the latest technology, consumers are told, we risk falling way behind. One Internet service uses a turtle couple named the Slowskys to amusingly illustrate their point. National Louis University's Katie McKnight, Ph.D., says some of her students enter her classroom with an attitude towards technology similar to the Slowskys.
"Kids are driving around in a Prius, and they ask their teachers, 'Why are you driving around in the Fred Flintstone car?'" said McKnight, an associate professor in the National College of Education. "Our general response is it's environmentally sound and it will get me there; but the kids say, 'You can ride in the Prius, so why don't you?'"
Such is the battle facing teacher educators as they prepare future teachers to enter classrooms that demand 21st century technology integration filled with tech-savvy students. The first battle may be familiarizing with basic usage of devices like an iPad or technologies such as Animoto, but successful usages demands a long-term approach of understanding how to integrate technologies in lesson plans. Currently, McKnight says there is little consistency in how technologies are implemented across the nation's classrooms.
"One of the opening statements I make with students is that the way we read text, think about text, create text and how text affects us has completely changed," McKnight said. "We are still teaching the same skill sets, but it has a different manifestation because of the technology."
McKnight describes herself as a digital immigrant and models her behavior for secondary education English students to mimic. She focuses on learning one new technology per month. She started blogging a year ago and has focused on learning best practices for technologies like Google Documents and Twitter. Her class is completely paperless, featuring all online readings and assignments. Some students revert the class back to paper form by printing all the readings and creating a thick binder, but McKnight says over the span of the course, most students shed their Slowsky identity.
In high school English classrooms, McKnight has observed teachers using web 2.0 tools such as Glogster or Animoto to add visualization to texts; teachers employ Evernote as a way to organize notes for a research paper; educators use Edmodo as a secure social networking site for teachers and students that foster discussion groups.
With the demand of new Common Core standards, McKnight says it is critical her students can master these technological advances. With the new standards modeling an ideal 21st century classroom, budgetary decisions at the state level are increasingly reflecting the need for technology integration.
For older generations, the influx of technology may feel overwhelming. McKnight says that teachers need to approach technology just like any other changes they face.
"The best teachers are constantly tinkering," McKnight says. "You have to figure out the nuances and feel comfortable with that, and be comfortable with the fact you will be uncomfortable at multiple times."
One uncomfortable fact is that some parts of the United States lag behind drastically in web integration. A 2010 Commerce Department report found that 40 percent of Americans do not have high speed Internet access in their homes. The push to familiarize future teachers with technology is needed, but teacher educators face the challenge of preparing teachers to work in a classroom with both tech-savvy and digital immigrant students.
"It's baby steps, and it's not just the technology but the technology as the tool," McKnight said. "Kids have to develop that skill set and ease with technology and how to use it to express themselves.
"The goal is to develop kids' skill sets in literacy so they have a powerful voice as adult members and caretakers of a democratic society; that's what I believe to my core."