Technology is ubiquitous, and intertwined with almost every part of our lives, communities, work, and homes. Research clearly highlights the instinctive nature of technology in student’s lives, particularly teenagers (Bennett & Maton, 2010, p. 323; 2012, p. 27; Fullan & Langworthy, 2014; Madden, 2013, p. 2; Merchant, 2012, p. 5). Technology is transforming the way in which we communicate, access information and learn. However this transformation has not reached “most schools or most teaching and learning in classrooms” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014).
This is the generation of students who have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Their future employment will take place in an environment where reliance on “technology is a given”, and the skill they really need is adaptability due to the constant technological changes impacting the 21st century workplace (Solomon, 2010, p. 1).
Education must thus evolve and innovate – “to create effective 21st century learning, it is not just our tools that need to change – it is our thinking” (Prensky, 2012, p. 1). The traditional focus upon ‘the three R’s’ need to be fused with four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration (Blair, 2012, p. 10), “as technology evolves, how we use it in education must evolve as well” (Whitby, 2014).
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational goals for Young Australia’s policy statement states in the Preamble that “In the 21st century Australia’s capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation” (Minsterial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA), 2008, p. 4) Thus, students must have “… the essential skills in literacy and numeracy and [be] creative and productive users of technology” (MCEECDYA, 2008, p. 8), a clear directive for the integration of technology in all stages of education.
Conversely, this drive for integration isn’t without tension. As mentioned, technology is intertwined with almost every aspect of our life and “…has become central to people’s reading, writing, calculating, and thinking, which are the major concerns of schooling and yet technology has been kept in the periphery of schools” (Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. 2), used to reinforce outmoded approaches to learning, or to “gain efficiencies in established routines” (Reich, Murnane, & Willett, 2012, p. 2). There is much speculation as to why this is the case: teacher’s fears, lack of knowledge, focusing on the technology rather than the end result, when it should be “about pedagogy first, technology second” (Isard, 2012, p. 10). Educators need to be open and “innovative in creating lessons that employ technology” in ways that add value, not just devices.
Educators must become “active researchers and developers of innovations and new directions” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 7) as currently ‘…technology’s main impact on learning is occurring outside of school’’ (Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. xiv) as “People around the world are taking their education out of school into homes, libraries … and workplaces, where they can decide what … when… and how they want to learn” (Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. 3)
“I often wonder if many of our students feel like they are time traveling as they walk through the school door each morning. As they cross the threshold, do they feel as if they are entering a simulation of life in the 1980’s? Then, at the end of the school day, do they feel that they have returned to the 21st century?” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 7)
Social networking seems all-pervading in the lives of youth outside of school (Horrigan, 2007; Lenhart, Madden, Duggan, Cortesi, & Gasser, 2013), however most schools are guarded about its use during school hours. There is an increasing mismatch between perceptions of technology as an educational tool, versus technology as socio-cultural artifact “where young people’s ‘everyday’ use of digital technologies is encountering a process of delegitimisation as evidenced by the banning of mobile phone use in schools” (Barnes & Herring, 2012, p. 3423; Clark, Logan, Luckin, Mee, & Oliver, 2009, p. 57; Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013, p. 2). “Using the tools that students find appealing can make a difference in their learning now, and help them prepare for the future” (Solomon, 2010, p. 1).
There are educators exploring transferability of student’s Web 2.0 skillsets to find ways these can be used to support formal learning. As Isard (2012, p. 10) observed, the “greatest irony in banning a mobile technology in our schools … is … [the] learning that could happen as a result of allowing it”, given the opportunity to provide guidance as they use the technology.
As the Internet has evolved with its multimedia forms of communication, society has changed. “[T]he power of social media and networking technologies to teach is perhaps the least leveraged technology in formal education systems today” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 85).
Educators shouldn’t assume however, that students possess “a natural capacity and confidence in the use” of technology, “tools or Web-based services” simply because they are of the Net Gen (Jones & Binhui, 2011, p. 48), whom evidence suggests are generally more adept at using technology for “consumption rather than production” (Horrigan, 2007). Educators need to harness and extend the students’ skills, rather than simply importing them into the classroom, helping students to discover “how to use and adapt new technologies and tools to help with their learning” (Jones & Binhui, 2011, p. 48)
Whilst the “Digital Divide” once followed socioeconomic lines, where the “haves” had access to technology, whilst the “have-nots” missed out, the new digital divide is more about the type of tech access and can also include the divide between the educators who are tapped into the global community and the educators who are not.
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