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Column: Technology a critical part of learning in the 21st century

By BARRY FISCHER, District 518

WORTHINGTON — What is 21st century learning? This question is being asked by schools, and few are coming up with concrete answers. How can we know what 21st century learning looks like when the world is changing so quickly?

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What is certain is that students will need to possess a technology skill set as they graduate and become part of the 21st century workforce. Skills such as: communication; the ability to collaborate with a wide spectrum of people; the ability to acquire knowledge and to apply that knowledge to the task at hand; and finally the ability to problem solve and innovate. These are the essential skill sets for the 21st century learner.

As a school district we are working on transforming the learning environment to match those skills. This year we took the first step by placing iPads in the hands of students in grades 3-8. Those students now have access to information at all times. The next step is teaching those students to decipher which information is crucial to obtain and what they can do with that information. Finally will come the ability to share the information they have acquired.

With the iPads, all students in the district have received a school issued Google account. This account provides access to email and the ability to create documents, presentations, spreadsheets and websites. Two reasons why we went with Google: the ability to use it anywhere, on any platform, and the ability to collaborate. With a Google document, students and teachers can work on the same document in real time. Teachers can provide quick, meaningful feedback on the document as the student works.

Students having a device in hand is only the beginning as teachers must learn to teach to the 21st century learner. No longer should teachers be “the sage on the stage” sharing their wisdom to eager students, but instead they need to be “the guide on the side.” Technology allows students to take an active role in their education. With Schoology and other online learning platforms, students will have access to their assignments and classroom materials at all times. Teachers can “flip” their classrooms. This means lessons can be learned at home through the use of technology, and the homework can be done at school with the teacher as the expert to assist the students.

Are we there yet? No, we are not. The next few years will be a time of transition. Teachers will continue to be trained, technology tools will be added to the repertoire of both students and teachers alike and devices will be placed in the hands of all students. With all this in mind, we need to remember the outcome of having technology in the hands of students isn’t about making blogs, prezis, videos or word processing. Instead the outcome needs to be about raising awareness, starting conversations, finding answers to our own questions, change minds, making a difference, taking action and driving change. Technology is a tool that to help reach our learning outcomes.

Barry Fischer is coordinator of teacher education for District 518.