Teaching Opinion

Bridging the Technology Divide

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 04, 2014 6 min read
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Digital leadership is as essential as social-emotional leadership, instructional leadership, and organizational leadership. As a matter of fact, digital leadership should now be assumed as part of both instructional leadership and organizational leadership. “As society evolves due to advances in technology, we as digital leaders, must ensure that instruction, learning, and other leadership functions follow suit or we run the risk of our schools becoming irrelevant” (Sheninger. p.33).

Learning the nature of advancing technologies and their applicability in our schools for use by our teachers and students is essential. We are charged to prepare students to be active and informed in these emerging technologies. Beyond that, these technologies are important tools to further engage our students and encourage them to become better learners overall. They will build those “21st century skills including critical thinking, sound reasoning, global awareness, communication skills, information and visual literacy, scientific reasoning, productivity, and creativity” (Lemke, Coughlin, & Reifsneider as cited in Sheninger. 2014). However, we have a Grand Canyon-like divide that separates those who are and those who are not comfortable with the plethora of technologies at our fingertips.

MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), are being used enthusiastically by some. Peggy Sheehy has been leading the way in the use of WoW in her library, and now in her classroom.

There is the story about Battushig Myanganbayar, the 15 year old student from Mongolia who earned a perfect score in MIT’s sophomore level MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on circuits and electronics. He also developed tutorials on the topics for other members of the MOOC in which he “propped his iPhone on a bookshelf and used its camera to film overhead video of his pen on the page as he completed homework problems and explained his work aloud.” He was accepted to MIT and is engaged in advising them as a research assistant in MIT’s Media Lab, helping them to understand how to develop MOOC’s for students who do not fit the traditional learning mold. As we build 21st century schools and work to close the achievement gaps for those lagging behind, students with this level of independence and creativity can excel in a new way.

There is the work of Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez, who lead the way in making, tinkering and engineering the classroom. Their work is in service to classrooms becoming makerspaces in which every child and teacher can learn together. Their central thesis is “that children should engage in tinkering and making because they are powerful ways to learn” p.3) Nicholas Negroponte, Founder of the MIT Media Lab and One Laptop per Child wrote about their work. “Learning is often confused with education. Martinez and Stager clearly describe “learning learning” through engagement, design and building. The best way to understand circles is to reinvent the wheel.”

Mitch Resnick, MIT’s Lego Papert Professor of Learning Research, developed Scratch and advocates for the teaching of coding even the youngest of children. If that is off-putting, he’s also the Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Project. Its goal is for the world to be full of playfully creative people, who are constantly inventing new possibilities for themselves and their communities. You probably already know MaKey MaKey so you might enjoy playing with some of the other products like Build in Progress.

MMORPG’s, MOOCs, the Maker Movement, coding...they all seem to be out of the reach of teachers and their leaders. Yet, those who are engaged in their development and use are extraordinary advocates.

3D printing has become affordable and is taking the field by storm. But, unless we ourselves, or a bridge builder from within or without, makes clear the capacity of 3D printing, few will see its value and applicability. It is less than five years old but is taking over and already changing medicine, manufacturing, and design. The Chinese are printing 10 houses in a day and paleontologists are using 3D printing to reproduce bones found in digs in order to have them be handled without the fear of breaking or degrading them.

What does this have to do with our classrooms? We think a lot. Many of our current students will earn their living as 3Ders. We need bridge builders to help us see the connections and develop the capacity to integrate this into our programs...not as an add on. We need those who can break down for us how these 21st century tools can be used within our systems that hold to 20th century requirements and facilities. It will take time to analyze the skills learned in the tasks of coding for example, and crosswalk them with our standards and curriculum. As novices, this task would provide extraordinary learning opportunities for the users. But we may not have the expertise or the time to uncover and check for alignment of the use of these technologies with our existing curriculum. However the alignment happens, leaders and teachers alike will have to be well versed in explaining and defending its use as opposed to the chapter, or unit, in the text used to teach that material.

Beyond those bridge building activities within schools, we need ambassadors to emerge from within our ranks and leverage the technology we already have in our hands. It’s time to showcase it. Blended learning opportunities developed and producing successful results need to be publicized. Parents, grandparents and local businesses need to know that school is changing in a positive way. It is a new day ... but, like changing time zones, day doesn’t arrive at exactly the same moment everywhere.

Software programs and websites that provide material to support learning and can help students master their learning need to be identified and shared widely. The walls are opening up. Social media is soon to be an industry standard for communication with the public. Professional development opportunities can be accessed from anywhere. There is no going back form the places technology is taking us. If we want to build communities and support families, we’d better begin to offer classes for parents and grandparents to bridge the generational divide ...maybe the kids can teach them.

So leaders, bridge builders and ambassadors ...we will leave you with this amazing development: Dr. Lisa Dieker, Dr. Charles E. Hughs, and Dr. Michael Hynes are the principal investigators in a project called TeachLivE™. From their website:

TLE TeachLivE™ is a mixed-reality classroom with simulated students that provides teachers the opportunity to develop their pedagogical practice in a safe environment that doesn’t place real students at risk. This lab is currently the only one in the country using a mixed reality environment to prepare or retrain pre-service and in-service teachers. The use of TLE TeachLivE™ Lab has also been instrumental in developing transition skills for students with significant disabilities, providing immediate feedback through bug-in-ear technology to pre-service teachers, developing discreet trial skills in pre-service and in-service teachers, and preparing teachers in the use of STEM-related instructional strategies.

Seems unimaginable? Take a look at some of their research.

Martinez, Sylvia Libow & Stager, Gary. (2013). Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torence, California: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press
Sheninger, Eric. (2014). Digital Leadership. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

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