Crude & Awkward: Educational Forms & Teacher 2.0
In a recent panel I chaired at National Council of Teachers of English entitled LEARNING LITERATE LIVES: 21ST CENTURY LITERACY SKILLS BEYOND INDIVIDUAL TECHNOLOGIES with Shelley Rodrigo, Chad Sansing, and William Kist, the discussion revolved around grass roots educational reform in terms of trying to move beyond the catch phrase “21st century learning” towards what that REALLY means. In November 2008, during Marc Prensky’s keynote from NCTE in San Antonio, he discussed how the taxonomies must shift from the nouns of Bloom’s 1956 model towards a “verbed” model where CREATING is shifted to the top. This same concept, for me, applies to technology tools. Educators want to take these shiny tech tools and try to shove them into the tired, regurgitated pedagogical paradigms. But that’s not effective. We can’t just grab the most recent cool Web 2.0 app and use it in our classes for the sake of using it. It doesn’t work, no matter how hard we’ve tried.
I’ll admit it; I’ve done it. I’ve said “let’s do this project” and “here’s the tool!” The kids groan, and I groan later… the reason I groan is because suddenly this cool shiny tool does NOT work! We use to love utterli.com and used it for maybe a year in a half until, during one project, it just died. I contacted the Utterli people who ignored me. I checked their Twitter feed that looked dead. My kids complained. They emailed me and each other, over and over. Nothing I could. I moved away from Utterli (if you find anything that can replace Utterli, tell me). I then tried another awesome tool I loved one called Xtimeline.com. Guess what? It worked very well until I asked 100 students to use it during the same week! It died. Same deal. Next up, Capzles.com. Some things worked very well but then we found bugs. The “CEO” would answer emails and sounded great. This lasted a week. After that, he stopped responding to my (very respectful) questions/emails. This is what happens.
So what do we do? We need to stop giving them these tools. Yes, I think I said that. Let’s start with the notion of US. Who are we? Who must we be? This blog is called Teacher 2.0 because we need a pedagogical reboot. Most of us are our own tech support, our own pedagogical experts, and our own content area authorities. By wearing all three hats, this becomes more difficult for us. Beyond teaching we, often, are required to teach to the test, chair committees, sponsor clubs, etc… And all of this beyond actually teaching.
cc image posted on Wikipedia by Punya Mishra on February 15, 2009
I call us Teacher 2.0. Not all of us, but the ones who “get it” and really try to become the center of the above diagram. Those of us in these discussions and care about our kids. It’s frustrating to be Teacher 2.0 because we have several challenges: 1) our IT department hates us because we’re the squeaky wheel who wants to get to websites that we hear work well but they filter them because they over filter and have unfounded fears of CIPA, 2) our class building colleagues who roll their eyes when we talk tech (like the teacher down the hall who wants to install a cell phone blocker in his classroom for his students!), or 3) our admin who don’t understand the technology updates because they’ve focused so long on either the pedagogical perspective or (god forbid) the management perspective of running a school. It’s hard to be a teacher in this world, and, too often, one of three things happens: 1) they give up and revert to Teacher 1.0, 2) they give up on teaching k-12 and shift to college/university (less filters, less big brother evals), or 3) they quit teaching all together. The last one is terrible because we lose some of our greatest teachers in our public schools every single day. Henry Giroux, critical and pedagogy theorist, in response to how teachers are currently being portrayed (read: lambasted) in the media and corporate American, argues that “Once eager public servants [teachers] in the fight for equality and justice, teachers are now forced to play with a severe handicap, as if assembled on a field blindfolded and gagged” (October 5, 2010). I have no idea why we placate the negativity thrust upon us. Is it through a mutual fear? We fear what education has become. The powers that be fear that eventually we teachers won’t continue our placated subservience towards the corporatized, politicized educational fruitcake system.
As I wrote that last bit I was about to make a caveat about not trying to sound conspiratorial and negative, but then I’d be sugar coating our current system. I won’t do that. What I will do is shift to a definition of today’s Student 2.0.
A gap has emerged between the way teachers think and the way students think. The difference between the way we, the native immigrants work, and the way the digital natives learn are vast: they work at twitch speed (how fast their fingers move on cell phones or gaming joysticks), they randomly access information instead of linearily, they parallel process data, they read graphics first, and they are just truly more connected. People toss around terms for various generations. Don Tapscott calls current undergrads, high schoolers, and middle schoolers NetGen (TK) while Marc Prensky calls them digital natives (many people find this term problematic, and typically that focuses on class-based situations); I suggest the students a few years older than my own child in elementary and younger are now the iGeneration (or iGen, if you must). What makes these kids iGen is not knowledge or capabilities but it is attitude and comfort level. While GenX educators (and even those of us on the cutting edge of Teacher 2.0) tend to keep a foot in the past (like the people who print emails and edit research work by printing it and writing on the paper), don’t necessarily instinctively go to the internet first, don’t naturally share their public profiles, make assumptions that real life happens offline, and believe our pedagogical practices are effective, while our students are metaphoric rockets; they go at hide speed, they’re volatile, they’re headed places unknown, they need good programming and good payload, they may require mid course corrections, and they have an enormous potential payoff. Teacher 2.0 is scared, Teacher 1.0 ignores this shift, the administration sweeps this under the carpet, the test makers just want to make their money, and the politicians wants to filter education funds elsewhere.
Together we all need to realize student 2.0 are those who want to consume and create in the digital age.
cc image created and posted on Flickr by Devon Christopher Adams on November 17, 2010
Crude & Awkward
In closing, some technology tools last a few years while others last only a few months. Educators need to be aware that these tools disappear too quickly for us to really engage with them pedagogically. This scares teachers. Email has been considered for “old people” as far back as late 2007. What’s next to go? Our capabilities, mindsets, and activities need to change because technology evolves daily.
Teacher 1.0 and way too many of our IT departments and administrators make excuses that we don’t use the technology because:
We don’t have time.
It produces poor work.
Where’s the evidence it works?
We don’t have computers.
It doesn’t help students pass the test.
Kids will cheat.
Kids will cheat. Why do today’s teachers generalize this notion of using technology to cheat? This is profound because today’s students need to learn HOW to find knowledge and information rather than worrying about how they find that knowledge. Student 2.0 are not just using technology differently, they are reshaping their entire lives with technology. Students have online ways of communicating, sharing, buying/selling, exchanging, learning, meeting, gaming, coordinating, evaluations, collecting, creating, evolving, searching, analyzing, reporting, programming, etc…. Today’s student is a different beast than their predecessors: US, Generation X (for the most part) teachers. We, as teachers, formerly used our own personal, younger experiences to relate to our students, but this generation is different. We can’t do that now. What do we do? How do we reform education? We don’t need educational reform, we need new educational forms. And with these discussions, I hope we find them.
Here I’ll borrow William Kist’s silent film metaphor. The silent film format was cutting edge and brand new a century ago; no one knew what the next step was and no one knew where this all was headed. Those filmmakers were rudimentary, they were “crude and awkward”. Flash forward a hundred years and we have 3D television technology for our living rooms and watch film leap out at us from 15 story movie screens. Sure educational reform may take 100 years but I’m ready to start now. This is grass roots; Teacher 2.0 like you and me are the pioneers, and, I don’t know about you, but I am ok being called crude and awkward.