I had the opportunity to attend and present at ECOO 13, a conference that brings together passionate educators who want to provide learning opportunities for our students where the focus is on changing the learning environment, supported by technology and digital resources. This change leads to greater opportunities for our students to think, create and engage in relevant learning experiences both collaboratively and individually.
I participated in two panels on that day, each asking a provocative question. The first panel asked about the future of the textbook. The second panel asked, if we believe in the importance of teaching 21st century learning skills supported by technology, why is it not happening in every classroom? I will share my reflections here.
In terms of the textbook, I shared that a different yet related issue was actually more important from my perspective. I am more concerned about the teaching and learning environment that exists in every one of our schools. I am concerned about the tasks that students are asked to complete. I am wondering about how often students have the opportunity to create a focus for their learning or to create a problem they wish to explore in the context of parameters set by the teachers. This focus or problem provides ample opportunities for our students to meet curriculum expectations, or better yet exceed them!
I believe this type of learning environment is better served by technology and digital resources. Though there is information in textbooks that I am sure is accurate, I worry that the textbook becomes a tool that creates a different kind of learning environment than the one I described above. We have all experienced the task to “read Chapter 5 and answer the questions at the end of the chapter.” Again, there may be nothing wrong with reading a chapter and answering the questions. Yet, might there be more dynamic ways of allowing students to explore a topic, analyze different sources, synthesize available information and critique that information? Instead of simply reading and responding, might our students have the opportunity to take ownership for their learning by drawing on information that may be found in a textbook, but is also supported in other enriching ways?
This takes me to the topic that was discussed in the second panel. We have been talking about the learning environment I have described above for many years. Why is it not happening? We often hear the argument that there are not enough funds. I would suggest that we have the funds, but we need to use our resources differently. In order to use our resources differently, we need to invite teachers to move into this digital, technological world by first supporting them as learners who are creating dynamic learning environments for their students. By supporting teacher learning, and by assisting them to see this relationship between teacher and student differently, I believe that digital conversion and technology will be seen as necessary for instruction. Digital conversions means that we are moving away from paper-based resources in order to embrace more dynamic resources that will allow students to explore their interests and teachers to meet students’ needs more effectively.
By creating a culture where teachers see themselves and are supported as learners, by providing access to digital resources and technology for the purpose of changing the learning environment, and by setting a clear system direction that we are moving into this new world, I will believe that a few years from now we will be walking as opposed to simply talking.