Over the past several years I have made a conscious effort to bring more and more innovating teaching and learning to my students on a regular basis. Much of that has centered around the introduction and usage of digital and web 2.0 technologies into my classroom practices. In some ways this has been quite successful, but not in all cases.
When I first began teaching a decade ago, the availability of technology in the classroom was still relatively limited. At the same time, the technologies for students online were limited to mostly to research through static websites, databases and online encyclopedias. The opportunities to interact and create with technology were just beginning to emerge.
Like any forward-thinking teacher during that time, I had my ups and downs with my teaching style and the integration of technology into that. I (like many) gravitated to the digital projector as a new way to present multimedia presentations to my students. While this was a far better system than the chalkboard or overhead projector, very little was really changing in the learning in the classroom. The instruction was still centered on me, the "teacher-expert," with students taking notes and participating in a limited ways in discussion. I occasionally had the students conduct an project using online sources, but again they were limited to websites, databases and online encyclopedias. I also created my own website with my presentations online.
Then, about four years ago I began to investigate and use web 2.0 technologies in the classroom. Many of these were just emerging (especially for classroom use) and through the help of a colleague I began integrating them more and more into my instruction. I began by using a wiki as a place for students to work collaboratively on research and make group study guides. I expanded to class blogs were students could investigate and answer questions. My students and I then expanded to podcasts, online videos and online presentations of ways of doing collaborative projects. I believe my students benefited greatly from what they learned using these new tools, but in the end they were often just "add-ons." The main focus of the class continued to be my PowerPoint created lectures and tests based on those.
This past year I have started to question my system. What are the kids really learning? What are they retaining long-term? What is important for them to know and what is just "facts and figures?" Are they getting the essential skills they need to succeed in a very different world and a world that is changing rapidly?
I have come to the conclusion that the focus needs to change. It shouldn't been memorization and reguritation that most of what I have done over the past decade promotes. Instead, the students should be learning to be 1) independent and self-regulating learners, 2) people who can work effectively with others, 3) citizens who see the world, knowledge and ideas as interconnected (not broken into distinct subjects), 4) and individuals who can think for themselves. Now, I don't claim to have all the answers on how to do this, but not to try to understand how this happens and to make it happen would be a grave injustice to my students, my profession and the world at large.
So, I have begun the process of change. I have begun moving my teaching to a format that focuses on creating 21st century learners. This will not be an easy process and it won't happen overnight. There is much to learn, do and experiment. I cannot do this alone. Change requires teamwork in addition to vision and action. Stay tuned, more to come soon.