We are now better than fifteen years into the 21st Century and educators are still discussing what role technology plays in education. The fact of the matter is no matter what educators, who are mostly products of a 20th Century education, think, our students today will need to be digitally literate in their world in order to survive and thrive. Digital Literacy is a 21st Century skill, but therein lies the rub. Most of our educators have been educated with a twentieth Century mindset using 20th Century methodology and pedagogy at best. I dare say there might be some 19th Century holdovers as well.
Digital literacy is recognized by the developers of common core to be important enough to be included as a component of the curriculum. This will however vary and be dependent on what each individual teacher knows, or does not know in regard to his or her own digital literacy. In other words teachers without digital literacy in a 21st Century education setting are illiterate educators for the purpose of this discussion. We can certainly wait for attrition to clean out the system, but that might take years at the expense of our kids. It also does not address a further infiltration of even more from entering the system.
These educators are not bad people. Many may be willing to change and learn to be digitally literate if it is prioritized and supported by administrators. The problem there is that digitally illiterate administrators fail to recognize the need, or understand how to support the new skills required using a new 21st Century mindset. That is not to say all administrators fall into this category, but certainly too many for any needed change to happen in a timely fashion do.
There certainly is enough blame to go around for what places the education system in this predicament and much of that lies in education programs from our institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, too often student tech skills and digital literacy are assumed and not formally taught in schools of higher education. If students are getting by with email and desktop publishing it is assumed that they are “digital natives”, a term that has cut short education for digital skills in America.
The biggest problem we have with any digital education is the rapidity at which things change.This will only get worse as technology evolves. People learn something; they buy into it; they get comfortable with it; and then it evolves to something else. That comfort level is hard to shake, so change is slow, if it takes place at all. The system also generally fails to recognize the need to prioritize and support change in a way to keep all staff relevant. It is also failing to prioritize digital literacy for incoming teachers.
If we were to prioritize Digital Literacy as a job requirement it might speed up needed changes. Once colleges realized that placing their students in teaching positions required a knowledge of digital literacy they would need to revamp their curricula accordingly. An influx of digitally educated teachers would go a long way in changing the culture of elementary and secondary schools in regard to their acceptance and priorities concerning new tools for learning and the integration of technology and education.
We have always required new teachers to have specific skills in order to secure a job teaching. We also required that they demonstrate those skills before a job could be offered. I can’t think of one hiring committee, of the hundreds I participated in, that did not require a writing sample. How many teaching candidates are offered jobs without someone seeing them teach a class with a sample lesson? It would not be a stretch to require candidates to exhibit their technology skills for consideration.
Prioritizing digital skills will also signal a need for existing staff to get comfortable with change rather than retaining the status quo. It will shake up comfort zones to enable forward movement. It will also force administrators to get some game of their own. They will need digital awareness in order to objectively observe teachers using technology for learning.
Digitally illiterate educators will soon be irrelevant educators and that hurts all educators. As a community we need to support change and digital literacy or we may become as relevant as a typewriter, or film photography. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.