Is It Time to Embrace 21st-Century Learning Trends?

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  • November 30, 2017

Welcoming the future of education technology

In 1988, a friend and mentor, Dr. William Bozeman, Professor Emeritus from the University of Central Florida penned an article for THE Journal that concluded two things that are still valid 30 years later:

  • Implementation processes must be taken more seriously by administrators than in the past. Resources without appropriate faculty development will be of little value.
  • Intelligent integration of CBI (the 80s speak: Computer-Based Instruction) into existing curricula is critical, as few programs will rely upon CBI as the primary delivery system shortly.

In light of this, can we stop talking about 21st-century learning and begin to embrace it? We have been discussing this concept for nearly two decades, despite the fact that we are solidly in the 21st century. Over the last 18 years, terms like maker-spaces, 21st-century skills, technology integration, web 2.0, flipped classrooms, blended learning, big data, Apps, personalized learning, open educational resources, and micro-credentials are all terms that are sure to get you approved to present at an ed tech conference.

The question remains, “Has fundamental change taken place?”

The technology landscape had changed dramatically since 1988 when the internet was not even a “thing.” In the mid-2000’s, schools connected to the internet via T-1 lines and computers were pricey. Now broadband is ubiquitous, and devices are amazingly inexpensive and robust. Our classrooms have begun to change, but these changes are typically first order changes.

First order changes are tactical and include the introduction of interactive whiteboards, document cameras, flat panel displays or projectors, classroom amplification systems, and laptop carts. We have designed flexible learning spaces, introduced smaller learning communities, and block scheduling. We have distributed devices, sometimes with no real plan, such that classrooms, as I have previously mentioned have become “tradigital.” Methods are slow to change, despite the introduction of shiny new tools.

Second order change is creating a new way of seeing things. It involves changing attitudes, norms, values, perceptions, and beliefs. The first thing requiring revamping is pre-service training. Our colleges of education are, for the most part, still mired in traditional educational practice. There may be an instructional technology component to their training, but pedagogically speaking, many professors are ill-equipped to model the kind of instruction that would be considered transformational. Sure, they are using Learning Management Systems and teaching online classes, but often this tool is used to disseminate information and assignments as well as collect them electronically.

The second element to be addressed is the issue of leadership. All too often the vision for the use of technology is left to the “tech people.” The problem is, without insight from the executives and top-level management, projects are doomed to fail.

In my 1:1 journey, I was fortunate enough to have the involvement of Chiefs from both curriculum and operations attending all of the planning sessions.

This way curriculum, maintenance, finance, risk management, security, professional development, HR, procurement, IT, and Instructional technology all heard the vision for technology in the district. Because the superintendent set the concept on down, there was no ambiguity as to the direction of technology in the district. Real leadership involves education on the part of top-level management who can set the expectations for creating real change in approach, pedagogy, and values.

Thirdly the issue of professional development for current staff, as well as ongoing support for teachers is critical. As I have penned before, I find that in tough financial times, teacher professional development is the first thing to be scaled back. It is unrealistic to give a laptop to a teacher, show them how to use Google Docs or O365, and then expect them to transform teaching in any meaningful way. Often tools are shared with teachers that are, in effect, productivity tools. Learning management systems, as described at the collegiate levels are usually a substitute for traditional syllabi and notebook planners.

What is needed is an ongoing support system for teachers to share best practices that involve using the technology to help individualize instruction, especially student progress based on the formative information.

In this way, we can allow students to progress at their own pace while ensuring that competencies are met without undue burden on the teacher.

In short, we are making progress thanks to the improvements and cost of technology, but to prepare our students for a quickly evolving global economy, it is imperative that our methods keep pace as well.

– George

George Perreault, Chief Academic Officer at ClassLink

George most recently served as Director, Instructional Technology, and Library Media at Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) in Florida, capping off a distinguished forty-year career as a teacher, administrator, and technology leader. During his time working in schools, Perreault guided OCPS through increasingly sophisticated use of technology in the classroom and across the district.