So the end of my first semester in the Nazareth College Inclusive Childhood program is quickly approaching. For my Technology in Education course (the reason for this blog in the first place), we’ve been asked to write a summative blog entry examining our experience and learning over the past fifteen weeks. The course, as described in the Nazareth course catalog and the welcome page of the course website, is intended “for all students regardless of their computer background. The importance of the infusion of technology into today’s classroom will be the focus of the course. Topics covered will include the use of spreadsheets, Smartboards, presentation tools, Internet research, web publishing, wikis, blogging, webquests, podcasting, and Smart technology student response systems. All of these topics will address the ways in which technology can enhance the listening, writing, reading, and speaking skills of students.”
In all honesty, I wasn’t very excited about the course at the outset. I understood that it was a required course, and that to advance through my chosen program, I’d have to slug my way through it. Before I applied for the graduate program, I had lived for four years in Uganda and Mali, and I knew that many things had changed stateside while we were living overseas. It soon became painfully obvious, too, that the tools students use to learn in and out of the classrooms had changed from when I was in school. Digital and Web-based technologies have allowed for a democratization of and unprecedented access to information. My (idealized) notion of college professors sporting beards and plaid sports coats with elbow patches as the last bastion of the hallowed halls and keepers of our collective knowledge has been reluctantly re-imagined. Teacher roles in the classrooms have changed – and in the case where they haven’t changed, they seem to be on an inexorable crash course with changing learning styles and this unprecedented access to information.So I was aware that I’d need to learn at least the most basic of digital technologies to be an effective teacher – or at least to keep the job I didn’t yet have.
In our course, we were exposed to and explored many (often mind-numbingly too many) available technological tools. Some of these I had had previous experience with (e.g., Skype and Facebook were my lifelines to family and friends in the U.S. while we lived overseas) and some were new to me – I had considered myself a technological novice, hold-out, and conscientious objector. I admit that in this course, as we were introduced to some of the newer and less familiar tools, I often was more impressed by the ‘bells and whistles’. However, my cynicism eventually led to thoughts such as, “Great! Cool! But how does this help learning?” And this course seemed less about the tools per se and more about their practical uses and how we might use them to facilitate effective student learning in our classrooms. We were required to chronicle our progression through the course on our blog sites and I quickly noticed an interesting and unexpected theme running through many of my posts through the weeks: there are some pretty deep, philosophical issues involved in the technological shift in our society and culture (e.g., the nature of reality, our fluid perceptions of our past, political change, the nature of literacy and our individual and collective narratives, etc.). This shift has some serious implications for future models of education, and for me personally as a future educator. I’ve had to do some uncomfortable re-thinking – and after 15 years of working jobs that were less than mentally challenging, any thinking would be uncomfortable – about what it means to be a teacher.
The tools we use have always been changing and always will change. If we focus on the tools an not on the individuals using those tools, who are we serving? And that’s the key that I’ve learned in the last few months as a (perhaps?) unintended consequence of this course: who are we serving as educators?