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There's no doubt about it: in today's academic world, a very noticeable gap exists between the technology teachers are using in their lesson plans and the level of technological savvy most students have. And in virtually every case, the students come out on top. From social media like Facebook and Twitter to texting, instant messaging, and more, today's students are virtually light-years ahead of their teachers, and that causes many problems when teachers try to both engage their students in the material and stay ahead of their ability to learn.
Technology has changed just about every industry, and education is no different. Although technology has brought learning to life for many students who would be otherwise less-than-enthusiastic learners, it also presents challenges unique to this generation of teachers. It's true that some teachers have an excellent understanding of technology, but a large percentage of teachers—even young teachers—are lagging behind, technologically speaking, when compared to their students.
Here are some principles teachers can follow to help them more effectively use technology with their students.
Students and Teachers Must Work Together
It is so important that teachers and students work together to bridge the technology gap that exists between them. Tech-savvy students are more interested in learning the material when it is presented in a way that speaks to their digital sensibilities, and that, in turn, makes teachers' jobs easier and more effective.
Teachers using the latest technology in the classroom generate additional student interest and also pique the interest of students who are disengaged in school. Heightened student interest also increases the level and amount of student engagement, in turn opening the door to greater learning experiences and opportunities.
Take Advantage of the Lessons Students Have to Offer
To bridge the gap, teachers need professional development opportunities (or even requirements) that would teach them to effectively integrate technology into their lesson plans. And who better to teach than the students who can use these technologies in their sleep?
This method has already been used to great success in some school districts across the United States. In addition to the student-led learning opportunities for teachers, expert guest speakers have been brought in to speak to the teachers about the immense benefits for both them and their students of embracing technology. Some school districts have started offering teachers the choice of dozens of different technology workshops.
Digital Learning Opportunities Increase Student Engagement
Unfortunately, technology literacy is not yet considered a mainstream component of a teacher's job description. It may be true that students can and do score highly on standardized tests without using Internet resources or other technologies, but some studies have also shown that those same students have lower retention levels of the information they have learned. The question then becomes this: are teachers teaching material so that students can pass exams or so that they can retain and apply the information throughout their whole lives?
The value of using the online world for education goes beyond quick access to information. Digital learning opportunities provide students with instant feedback so that they can verify what they know or, even more useful, discover gaps in their learning and target their study sessions to what they need to brush up on. Technologies such as webcasts, instant messaging, and other platforms also provide a way for students to help one another more effectively.
Students speak the same language—the language of technology—and when that language can be used to help them learn, the chances of success are high.
Join the Social Media World of Today's Students
The reality is that today's students thrive on two things: technology and social interaction. And when both of those things can be combined to help students and teachers learn from one another, the result is a thriving and vibrant climate of education.
The list of ways for teachers and students to interact, work, and learn together using social media is endless. Teachers now design lesson plans integrating texting and blogging tools to create stories, poetry, and creative writing assignments. Classroom blogging platforms allow entire classes to receive support with new material and also encourage participation and discussion of topics. Online problem-solving games address critical-thinking skills in a fun and exciting way.
Social media ideas are countless, but the number of classrooms using social media on a regular basis unfortunately does not match the number of students using social media outside the classroom and school.
Technology has a place in the education of everyone, from the very earliest learners to adults. But for it to be used most effectively, the gap between teachers and students, and the gap among teachers themselves, must be closed. Through student-led classes, guest speakers, and professional development days dedicated to technology literacy—as well as a bigger emphasis on technology applications for the classroom in education colleges—the gap can effectively be closed in the near future.
Patricia Fioriello is an education consultant who provides quality resources for the K–12 school community and publishes articles, e-guides, and e-books addressing the critical issues in today's schools.
ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 9. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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