Should teachers be techies in 21st Century schools? 2

Following a very interesting tweet on last week’s #edchatie, a contributor said that teacher candidates with training in technology will bring education into 21st century. It was an interesting point that that got lost amongst the general chat about the strange nature of contracts and redeployment in our education system. Should teachers have training in technology? In my opinion, it depends on the question.

Should we be looking for teachers with technology skills or should we be looking for teachers with skills in using technology?

The images above for me are interesting. In one the teacher clearly has technological skills; that is, she can use the Interactive Whiteboard. In the other, we can’t see the teacher. Perhaps she can’t use it at all but is letting the children at it. Perhaps I’m casting aspersions on both classrooms! I don’t think it really matters whether a teacher is trained in technology unless they are trained in using technology to help children learn.

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When the government started supporting ICT in education back in 1997, they decided to roll out training for a set of enthusiastic population of teachers. Many of them had never used a computer before. Most of them had never used the Internet. Almost all of them had never used a computer to teach anything to a child. The government’s training was given in two phases and teachers were taught how to do very basic things on a computer – the kinds of things anyone under 40 simply “knows” how to do. They were also taught word processing, spreadsheets and basic databases. This was the sort of training that was going on in most places at the time so it wasn’t particularly unusual. However, a potential failure of this training was that the focus of the training was on the technological skills rather than pedagogy.

I feel the same mistake was made a few years ago during the boom of Interactive Whiteboards. At the time. the NCTE’s stance on Interactive Whiteboards was that there was a preference for projectors, wireless mice and keyboards so they didn’t offer training initially on them. The companies who were selling the boards offered training for teachers in how to use them. This training was given, in general, by salespeople, and again the focus was training on how to use the board rather than how to use the board to help children learn.

What skills are needed to be 21st century teachers? Are they technological skills or are they something different?

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A teacher with technological skills may be able to amazing things on a computer. They may be able to create wonderful PowerPoint presentations with advanced animations, links and other things. They may be able to make a cool video and put it on YouTube. They might even be able to rip apart a computer and put it back together again. These teachers could probably build a programme to help children learn everything there is to know on the curriculum and test them to make sure they’ve got it through intelligent assessment.

All these skills are important and teachers should be learning how to do them, (except maybe the last two – we can leave that to the guy on the left!) However, there’s no harm in a teacher understanding the basic concepts of digital media. Digital Literacy is highly important and teachers should possess a minimum amount of competence in using technology. While the amount of things that one can do on computer has increased hugely since 1997, it has become much easier to do them and most computer hardware and software is designed to be intuitive. If you are of a certain age, you might notice that manuals that come with computers and other digital devices are a lot smaller than the ones back in the mid-90s. I think this is because things are so much more intuitive. If you don’t believe me, try playing with a Windows 3.1 computer and load up an MS-DOS program in it.

The skills in the above paragraph are digital literacy skills. Mags Amond from CESI posted an interesting article stating 33 digital skills needed by the 21st century learner. These are the kinds of things that teachers and students can and should be trained in.

However, in my opinion, how they are trained is more important. If a teacher cannot get the information across to children in a real way, in a meaningful way, or in a fun way, then no matter how technologically gifted anyone might be, the information isn’t going to get across to the learner. I found this rather nifty diagram on Wikipedia, which shows the skills that we need to be giving children.

The middle column are the digital literacy skills I mentioned above. The left column show the way teachers now have to help children learn these skills. There is no good getting learners to practice digital literacy skills using 19th/20th century teaching methodologies. Scenes of children silently sitting in rows of seats with the teacher at the front of the room are of little value. Even the computer rooms set up in many schools in the mid-90s are limited if there’s a teacher telling each student what to do every step of the way.

I would argue that a teacher must have the ability to give children the skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and problem solving before they can even start to give training in digital literacy. Therefore I believe that the best teachers in the 21st century are not necessarily those with technology training. I have seen some amazing teachers giving a platform for children as young as four to use technology to learn basic 21st century skills. Many of these teachers have never trained in the tools they are showing to the children but both the teacher and the children are given the power to collaborate and problem solve to find solutions and learn together.

Walk around any school and you’ll instantly see the 21st century teachers. There are many out there. There are also many that are still sitting behind their desks or standing in front of their boards. No matter what technology is in the classroom there, they are working in a 19th/20th century mindset. I don’t think giving them training in technology is the answer though. They need training in their methodologies. Once they’ve changed their mindset, it isn’t a difficult transition to using 21st century tools in 21st century ways.