The generation lap?

We often hear about the ‘generation gap’ that occurs between teachers and students when it comes to technology use, but I’m often convinced that what we’re talking about is, in fact, a generation lap. They’re not just ahead of us in the way they use technology, they’ve lapped us and are working at a whole new level.

I thought of this when reading today a recent report from Project Tomorrow titled Creating our Future: Students Speak Up about their Vision for 21st Century Learning Project Tomorrow, (PDF) which outlines compelling evidence that students are using technology to take responsibility for their own learning, often times bypassing traditional educational settings.

The report is based on a  national survey of more than 368,000 K-12 students, parents, teachers and administrators, students who were invited to share their vision for 21st century learning that includes:

  • Social-based learning – students want to leverage emerging communications and collaboration tools to create and personalize networks of experts to inform their education process.
  • Un-tethered learning – students envision technology-enabled learning experiences that transcend the classroom walls and are not limited by resource constraints, traditional funding streams, geography, community assets or even teacher knowledge or skills.
  • Digitally-rich learning – students see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content and resources as a key to driving learning productivity, not just about engaging students in learning.

I noted that for the first time, the Speak Up survey included pre-service teachers. These students said learning the following would best prepare them to teach today’s students:

  • learning how to use technology to differentiate instruction for students (75 percent),
  • incorporating digital resources in a lesson (68 percent),
  • locating and using electronic teaching aides (67 percent),
  • creating and utilizing video or podcasts within a lesson (57 percent) and
  • using electronic productivity tools (57 percent).

No surprises here, but the contrast between what these students see as valuable and necessary, and what they actually experience is highlighted in the report:

The number one skill aspiring teachers are being taught in their methods course is how to use word processing, spreadsheet and database tools. But when asked what would best prepare them to teach in a 21st century classroom, the college students suggested better training in current technology.

Now there’s an example of generation lap – how can these young teachers be expected to lead learning in the digital age if their preparation is limited to uses of technology that should be, frankly, assumed. This is a very ‘tool-based’ view of the technology, reminiscent of the last century. We ought to be using technology to facilitate learning environments where students have opportunities to learn collaboratively, with classmates or experts, anytime or anywhere using digitally-rich curriculum.

Of particular interest to me was the way the report differentiated between the responses of school administrators and leaders, and classroom teachers. From the evidence provided it would appear that it is the administrators and leaders who are more optimistic in recognising the value of technologies for learning, as illustrated in the following graph which looks specifically at respondents view about perceived benefits of using mobile devices for instruction:

This graph shows clearly that teachers are less likely to see  benefit than principals and school administrators (of course, one has to be mindful of the significant difference in the numbers surveyed in each group). Still, as another part of the report states, “students value the fact they can use their mobile device to look up information on the Internet, access their online textbook or collaborate with classmates, yet teachers are concerned that students will surf  the Internet, text or play games.”

The significant question this raises is captured in the final challenge at the end of the report:

As we continue our local and national discussions about creating learning environments that will engage students and enhance student achievement, perhaps we should begin to ask: are our schools and districts  ready to accommodate the desires that this next generation of teachers have for truly 21st century, technology­‐enabled and empowered classrooms?

One thought on “The generation lap?

  1. Sadly I am totally appalled at the lack of ICT experience of pre-service teachers as they come to my classroom for teaching experience and the people who train them are hardly any better.

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