I have been corresponding with a high school student who contacted our college about the effects of Personal Learning Networks on high school students. He was doing research for a report. I was impressed with his curiosity, as well as his grasp of the subject. My interaction has caused me to reflect on my own beliefs as I explained things to him.
In order to learn about any subject, one needs to seek out a source with expertise on the subject to obtain the information or content needed to understand that subject. That is a simple explanation. Our education system not only provides those experts to our citizenry, but it trains experts of content to continue the process. We know those content experts as teachers. This is how things went for decades. Content was delivered by the systems experts. The exception would be those who sought out the expertise of books by self-directing their search for knowledge in libraries.
In the age of the Internet all of that has changed. Information or content can be searched and stored digitally. Beyond that, it can also be created, published, and communicated in ways never before possible. To accelerate the entire process, we now have Social Media which provides a global gateway for the flow of information in numbers never imagined when information was only in printed-in-ink text form.
The new tools of technology, as well as the vast amount of content now available, have created a new form of literacy. The skills required to master this literacy will enable our students to gather, create, collaborate, and communicate with content globally. It is not a passing fad, but rather a shift in the way we interact as a culture. This is the reality for which we, as educators, are helping to create lifelong learners.
Our education system has not yet recognized this as the new reality. There are still stand-and-deliver educators who are wonderful educators. They do get their content across to a number of students. Bill Gates has a vision of all teachers having the TED Talks model of content delivery. The methods taught to teachers are only now taking on the tools of technology in the methods used to teach. Not every teacher in the system today has had the access needed to be comfortable using those tools. Not every parent has had the opportunity to explore the possibilities of learning for their children with the tools of technology.
I have always felt that if we are to reform the education system we need to change the culture. We are beginning to see a change coming as our culture is being further immersed in a technologically-driven society. The needs of the society are requiring a citizenry that is technologically literate. In order for our children to be literate and competitive we need to shift our focus in education.
There are times when a stand and deliver model of teaching will be required. The front of the room content delivery system will always be needed at times. Students however need to know that they are capable of getting beyond that. They can go beyond that model to seek out what it is they need to know. We need to teach them how to do that. We need them to understand what id is to be a responsible digital citizen. We need them to understand how to navigate the internet to seek information. We need them to understand that there are people the can connect with on a global level willing to collaborate on content. They need to understand that they can create content in many forms and publish it to the world as an audience. They need to understand that they can communicate their ideas to others worldwide. E are not lofty goals available to a limited few. They are real attainable goals available to anyone who is technologically literate.
“How do we get there?”, you may ask. That is the change in the culture and reform education part. In my view of the perfect system, we would start in elementary school. We would teach digital citizenship and safety on the internet. We would focus on critical thinking to have students understand the difference between fact and fiction, and be separate facts from sound bytes. We will teach them how to gather, collaborate, create and communicate content using technology tools. We would begin to have them develop their own Personal Learning Networks which will continue to grow as they do. It will be populated with people who will help with what each student wants to learn as well as what needs to be learned. The teacher will not be a content delivery expert, but rather a content expert who guides the students in a mentoring model. Wherever it is fitting, technology tools will be used for learning, but it will not be a forced issue. If technology tools are not appropriate they need not be used.
Of course this is not possible. I don’t make the rules. The policies determining the direction of education is not being made by me. Some might argue it’s not even being made by educators. I am a realist. I don’t expect to get the whole pie, but I would love to get a piece of it.
How about if we do not implement this school wide around the country. What if we started a push-in program where a teacher would on a regular schedule drop into classes on the elementary level to mentor students in the areas discussed here. This teacher would also be a liaison with the parents. Parents are most active with their child’s education on the elementary level. What better time to train them in the use of technology and to dispel the myths connected with it. This will allow parents a greater involvement with their child’s education.
What if on the secondary level, instead of doing what is needed with technology in every academic class, we created a separate mentoring class. At each meeting the teacher of that class would address the needs of the students in using tech learning tools to accomplish goals in all academic areas.The teacher would act as a guide, an expert in the area of learning with tech tools for learning. If the program is successful other academic teachers should soon adopt the practices of the mentoring teacher as they learn from their students. Students could use this mentoring class to refine PLN’s with experts and others with similar interests. This PLN will go with the student after graduation to ensure lifelong learning.
These are getting to be cliché’s but someone needs to pay attention. The status Quo is not working. We can’t expect out of the box innovation, if we do not allow out of the box thinking. We do need our teachers to be better learners, if we expect them to be better teachers.
I am most grateful to that high school student who engaged me in this conversation. By the way he is creating his Personal Learning Network in order to research what a personal learning network is. Amazing is this wonderful, magical world of learning!
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