by Terry Heick
Teachers are the arbitrators of knowledge and culture. Knowledge and culture are each dynamic, endlessly crashing and churning. This makes teaching significantly important and difficult work, and can leave teaching—as a craft—wide-eyed and nonplussed in response.
Worse, those outside the bubble of education can understandably struggle to understand the problem. What are the teaching in those schools anyway? How is it any different from when I was in school? Well, as it turns out, much of it is different from even five years ago.
Starting with literacy.
This Is The World Teachers Must Adapt To: 7 Ways Teaching Has Changed
1. A culture of emerging literacies
Digital devices have changed everything. They promote personalization, offer direct access to everything, support the mashing of media, are interactive, and mobile. While education isn’t close to figuring out that last part, the first four are giving it plenty to work on in the meantime.
If literacy is understanding how to read and write, then anything read or written/created digitally is first and foremost about reading and writing, but with unique nuance. Socializing ideas, multimodalities, complex methods of tagging and curating, endless acronyms and initialisms, fluid transfer from one form (a tweet) to another (a vine) to another (a vine tweeted) to another (a shorter gif version of that vine then pinned on pinterest) to another (ultimately arriving as a meme that is then shared on facebook).
This is a pretty big deal, and requires the deft hand of teachers to make the adjustments.
2. A society that is mobile
Mobile learning is also a thing. Students can get up from their desks and walk around now. In fact, in a progressive learning environment they have a need to do so, and the self-monitoring strategies to make it work on their own. They can Skype with other classrooms, engage in school-to-school collaboration for project-based learning, and participate in experiential learning in authentic local communities.
It is easy to miss what a dramatic change this represents for education.
3. A world where equity is a central theme
Equity is more and more an issue a decade and a half into the 21st century. In the 1990s, profits, corporate greed, and systematic policies were less visible—niche. The occupy wall street movement changed that, and the Millenials have taken up that mantle as a significant theme for their generation.
Access to technology, socioeconomic issues, language barriers, culturally indifferent standardized assessment, WiFi speeds, and dozens of other issues are no longer niche side-conversations, but rather central issues teachers have to confront in both curriculum, instruction, and community engagement. Content holding and distribution—if it was ever—is no longer enough.
Teachers are both diplomats of often very bad school policies, and ombudsman for students and families.
4. A society of constant connectivity
Teachers are expected to both learn, plan, publish, share, and collaborate endlessly with other teachers, and then support their students to do the same with their own peers.
The first step here is to help students to identify potential collaborators—often in other countries that speak other languages. I didn’t teach in 1953, but I’m guessing this wasn’t common.
5. A world where the technology learns, too
A sleeping giant in education (well, besides parents) is adaptive software. This is the killer app for education as it struggles to make sense of a new world and new expectations.
Apps are now available that adapt to student performance in a way that teachers can’t. Yes, they can and will replace teachers for many of skill-based tasks that can be automated without losing their efficacy.
And in education that depends on curriculum as we know it, there are many of these.
6. A context that demands new credibility
Try convincing a student to listen to you explain how Europeans came to America for religious freedom when they can Google that tidbit in 45 seconds, then access an entire YouTube channel dedicated to that very idea while downloading an iTunesU course from an Oxford professor on the very same thing.
In the 21st century, teachers have to respond to this while serving educational institutions that continue to operate blissfully unaware of it all. And since it’s hard to serve two masters, what do you do? Do what you’re told in the classroom, then read this kind of stuff for fun?
7. A culture that can seem, well, distracted
And if we’re going to talk about the world teachers must adapt to, the idea of distraction has to be at least mentioned.
I’m not sure any of us fully understand the complexities of modern connectivity, information access, and the subjective idea of “distraction.” (After all, if five people are all at a table at Starbucks with their faces stuck to their phones, who’s to say their physical company rather than the respective apps that their own aren’t doing the distracting?)
That said, things are certainly different than the BS era of yesteryear (that is, before smartphones). At any moment someone can bust out a digital screen and start smearing their fingers across it. And no one knows what they’re doing and so we assume the worst and say the world is going down in flames.
And it very well could be. This is all new, so we don’t know. This is an era full of possibility, uncertainty, excitement, loss, and change.
This is the world teachers must adapt to.
This Is The World Teachers Must Adapt To: 7 Ways Teaching Has Changed; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool