Today, students’ lives are steeped with technology in all its shapes and sizes and forms. They don’t stop to ask directions. They have iPhones and GPSs and they just keep going forward at full tilt. If we wish to understand our students so we can affect their lives and their futures, we—as parents, as educators, as mentors—must not only understand that mindset, but embrace it.
Think about how different the education experience is today from what it was in the 1960’s, 70’s and even a brief 20 years ago in the 80’s. Back then, learning materials were still delivered in print. Biology and chemistry labs were performed in labs or in the field. Students, side-by-side with educators, really got in and got their hands dirty.
Today’s students are likely to be reading their lessons online, performing those same experiments in simulated environments, and turning in their lab reports via a class website as opposed to writing out assignments, and looking their teacher in the eye as they hand them a written report on paper. While we might feel nostalgic for those kinds of interactions, we can—and must—take a different mindset. Essentially, this represents a new aspect of the challenge that every educator has faced: ours is to uncover ways of connecting with our students in ways that are meaningful to them. Technology has provided a new paradigm for the classroom, redefining how, when and where learning happens. Now, educators have a limitless library of tools to add depth to learning experiences. No doubt about it, technology presents challenges, but it has also added great variety to teaching and learning, making it more exciting, interactive and, yes, fun.
A number of insights can help us understand this world where our students reside:
Of course, access to technology is not a given; the economic health of the communities where our nation's students live and learn is not a constant, and we must challenge ourselves at all levels of society to ensure that every student gets a quality, relevant education. If we are to prepare our students for the world that awaits them, educators need to not only welcome technology, but we must approach the world using the high-tech eyes and speak the high-tech languages that our students use every day. As we do that and gain an increasingly deeper understanding of their technological lives, we will be able to more effectively connect them, educate them, and send them forward with the knowledge and skills that they will need to sail on to success.
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