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:
- Our students experience their world through technology.This is one of those simple, undeniable facts that we can rail against or embrace. According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation study, the average 8 to 18 year-old spends more than seven and a half hours a day using smart phones, computers and other devices. Include texting and cell phones and the number jumps to nine and a half hours. (Levin)
- The use of technology and electronic media in K-12 education is on the rise.Every year, more wonderful, brave educators are adding more technological arrows to their classroom quivers. A research report that Grunwald Associates created for PBS indicates that almost three quarters of K-12 teachers use downloaded or streaming content from the Internet as an instructional tool. (Grunwald Associates) If you’re one of these educators, kudos to you for implementing ways to connect with your tech-savvy students!
- It has been said that our school systems are, in general, behind the rest of society."Most students say they ‘step back in time’ when they enter the school building each morning." (Project Tomorrow) This is a hard fact to swallow, but we must accept it and deal with it, head on. If our task is to prepare students for a technology-driven, knowledge-based global economy, the mastery of technology they are getting outside of school must be just as important a part of their education as the content and skills they are learning in school.
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.