21st century and 20th century technologyWe speak all the time about teaching 21st century students: what that means, what expectations they have, how they learn differently and how to prepare them for a future we cannot imagine.  Educators have a great understanding that the practice of education is changing because our students are changing at a rapid pace.  If that’s the case, then why are we teaching these 21st century students using a 20th century model?  Why are we so stuck in 1999 in terms of our technology support, our curriculum design, our assessment models – these items impair use from connecting, engaging and assisting our students in learning for tomorrow.

Personally, I think it’s because we are scared.  Scared of what the constant that is change will do to our very expensive systems that have been set into place.  Spending thousands of dollars on a technology system renewal because we’ve had the technology for a decade and it’s what we know is not a good reason to keep it.  Does it assist us in the actual work that needs to be done with the 21st century learner?  If so, let’s consider it an option, not a mandate.  We’re scared of what it would mean to student safety, parent communication, and teacher responsibility to allow for social media to be a part of the fabric of our educational culture.  We’re scared that if we invest in digital textbooks for an entire system, the technology to support those textbooks may “break” our infrastructure.  Rather than just be scared (which is an honest reaction to any change), it’s up to us as the adults to face that fear, develop a plan of action that is congruent with the time in which we live and the needs of our students and to implement it with integrity.

So how can you tell if your district is still teaching in a 20th century model?  Here are a few clues to look for:

1. Social Media is a No-Go.  If you mention “Twitter”, “YouTube” or “Facebook” to anyone with decision-making authority in your district and they blanche and treat you as if you have the plague, there’s a good chance your district has the 20th century illness.  Remember….it’s all about fear.  Fear that social media is unsafe for students and a waste of precious educational time.  Rather than be afraid, it’s time that we start embracing social media in schools.  After all, I’d rather teach my students to use Twitter and Facebook appropriately and have them share their posts with me than have them doing it on their cell phones under their desks taking pictures of who-knows-what.  Talk about unsafe!

2. Digital Tools are considered computers/laptops.  If this is the only source of digital media that is allowed in your district, you definitely have a problem.  Some students don’t even consider laptops to be helpful tools anymore.  Many have grown up using a cell phone, tablet or other portable device rather than a laptop and there’s no sign of that stopping.

3. Apps are a dirty word.  Many schools purchase expensive suites of computer software and load them on their laptop carts thinking this addresses 21st century needs.  Sorry, but the app market is set to take over computer software in this decade.  By purchasing those expensive suites, you are just flushing away your money.  And while we’re on the subject of apps: let’s not mandate what apps are “appropriate” for student use through a meaningless process of getting each app approved for the district. It’s time for a little teacher autonomy.

Obviously, there are a host of other clues that may suggest your district is still stuck in their industrial model of education with a blanket of technology thrown on top.  And please, feel free to comment and share away on this one….I think we’d all love to hear the ways in which districts do this.  And, I’m not really faulting district administration.  Their intentions are good…they really do want to protect our students and teachers, as well as protect what they currently have invested from becoming broken inadvertently.  But, if we keep doing business this way, our students will no longer have a need for our public schools because they’ll be able to receive a better education from their phones in their own bedrooms at home.  We need to get real and make the choice to move forward in truly providing 21st century education to our 21st century students.  Then, we might keep pace with the vision we have set for ourselves for so long.