Random Thoughts on Returning from the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Manchester New Hampshire
I have just returned from the three-day Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference. I have been attending and presenting at this conference for a number of years and as has been the case in the past, I am experiencing the frustration of trying to reconcile the ideal with real. The new paradigm espoused by experts from all over the world has been encouraging us, as teachers, to use technology to move away from the 19th century concept of the instructor centered talking head in front of the classroom in favor of a student based project oriented approach. Back to actuality, I feel like the ride from Manchester was in fact time spent in a time machine. The enthusiasm created by attending the conference is tempered by the reality that change takes time.
Recently I watched the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, speak about innovation and education. I believe that just about everyone believes in the importance of these two concepts. Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy creates the following hierarchy of applying knowledge. Starting at the bottom, they are: remembering-understanding-applying-analysis-evaluating-creating. While I agree with many of Mr. Duncan’s points, it baffles me that the initiative coming from the department of education seems to stress the lower applications of learning. Because of the time spent preparing for lower level standardized testing, we are failing to provide our students with the opportunities to conduct authentic research, and to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create. Mr. Duncan speaks of the “dumbing down” of American students. We as educators need to consider that this implied “lowering of the bar” may be the result of our resistance to accept the fact that today’s young people are learning differently from students from past generations. The modern world demands that its citizens be critical thinker. Today’s students more than ever must learn how to learn. They must be adaptable to change and understand and have a command of digital media. The day of the solitary expert at the front of the room has passed. Access to the Internet is morphing today’s students into independent lifelong self- learners. Top-down teaching and standardized curriculum is reactionary. Citizens of the digital age don’t need to memorize information; they need to learn to differentiate between what information is reliable and valuable and what is not. It is difficult to see how NCLB and standardized testing is helping to promote this new paradigm of teaching. Standardization does not promote creativity. Do we really want all of our future citizens to be the same? Our greatness in the United States has been traditionally based in its diversity and its ingenuity. Students need to be given the opportunity to collaborate and communicate with other students, teachers, professionals, and enthusiasts that share the students’ interests. Knowledge and tolerance of other cultures is not optional in Thomas Friedman’s “flat world”.
Change is taking place in my district. The International Society for Technology Education guidelines have been accepted in all of our schools. More and more of our teachers are integrating computer technology into their curricula. We need to work on providing access to computers to all of our students all of the time. Computers are today’s pencils. The technology should be available when it is needed, not only when it has been planned. The greatest irony is that while schools all across the country and the globe are debating on how to use technology in the schools, some students are bypassing formal pedagogical institutions in favor of educating themselves on line. I know because I am one of them. Why should I pay thousands of dollars to listen to the “expert” at the front of the classroom when I can find anything and everything I need to know on the Internet? The real challenge in the 21st Century is to provide the opportunities for our students to be motivated to learn for themselves.