The release of the 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools reveals a high level of public engagement in the issues surrounding public education. Americans are demonstrating greater levels of immersion and increased awareness of efforts to transform learning and teaching, such as Common Core, charter schools and assessment. However, a glaring omission from the national conversation in the poll is any reference to how teachers are leveraging the power of technology to motivate and engage students.
If we were to tour schools across the country, we would see technology in many schools and classrooms. We’d see some students using mobile devices, laptops, interactive whiteboards and tablets to learn in new ways. We’d see many more students using devices to do what they’ve always done, such as take notes and search for information. The push to digital learning started decades ago, so why, when we talk about education, do we want to separate learning and technology? Students today don’t know a world without technology. We need teachers to evolve their practice to effectively facilitate student use of these new tools and resources to learn differently.
For more than 40 years, ISTE has been advocating for the effective integration of technology into learning and teaching. Many educators have applied the ISTE Standards to leverage technology to motivate and engage students across all subject areas. Networked learning has the potential to connect learners and experts in ways never before imaginable. It can support active, rather than passive learning experiences by empowering students to take more responsibility for the learning process. Technology is truly a gateway to infinite learning possibilities.
Nationwide, we are seeing powerful results from the effective use of technology in classrooms. For example, results of research by ISTE and the Verizon Foundation earlier this year into the use of education technology had teachers reporting that 35 percent of their students showed higher scores on classroom assessments; 32 percent showed increased engagement; and 62 percent demonstrated increased proficiency with mobile devices. In fact, 60 percent of participating teachers also reported that by using their mobile devices, they provided more one-on-one help to students, and 47 percent said they spent less time on lectures to the entire class.
The PDK/Gallup Poll poses the question, “Is it time to go back to the drawing board for school reform?” ISTE believes it is time to expand the conversation around learner empowerment. This means shifting some teacher control to students so they have more choice over their own learning paths. It also means rethinking learning and changing the role of teachers. The fact that the PDK/Gallup reports just over half (56 percent) of K-12 teachers are “not engaged” and another 13 percent are “activity disengaged” is a sign that we need a new approach to learning and teaching.
Technology provides new opportunities to explore alternatives to our traditional learning and teaching paradigms. School reform starts by thinking differently about time, space and place. It starts by giving students more responsibility, new ways to engage in learning, and opportunities to solve ill-defined problems. It starts by rethinking our preservice teacher programs and empowering seasoned teachers to choose the professional learning that best meets their needs. In doing so, teachers are able to model personal learning for their students and apply the art of teaching to creatively meet curriculum standards.
Can all this happen absent technology? To an extent, but let’s take time to thoughtfully consider the implications new technologies can have on learning. Let’s take decisive steps to leverage the tools and communication devices that connect the world and have become increasingly pervasive in our everyday lives. Students need guidance in the use of these powerful tools for learning. Our role as leaders and educators is to help them on this journey. To expect that our traditional, passive modes of education will effectively meet this challenge is naïve and shortsighted.
Wendy Drexler Ph.D., Ed.S., is ISTE’s chief innovation officer. She has 23 years of experience as an educator, leader and innovator in K-12 and higher education. She has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Her corporate experience includes developing a proprietary learning management system as well as some of the first web-based training programs for global network sales at IBM and AT&T.