Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Preparing for the future

There seems to be a wide gap between how young people use technology in their spare time and how they use it in school. A year ago I saw a report on this comparing computer use at home and in school (sorry I can't remember the reference this time) and the gap showed up very clearly with Sweden having one of the widest gaps in Europe. Kids who are intensive users of the net outside school hardly use it at all in school. It seems that some people consider the net as purely for entertainment and therefore not for use in an academic setting. Learning is of course a serious business. This compartmentalisation is rather convenient because it means that schools don't have to teach digital skills since the kids know that already (due to the myth of digital natives/net generation).

There's a new report now that looks into this alarming gap,
21st-Century Classroom Report: Preparing Students for the Future or the Past?. It studies student and teacher attitudes to IT and tries to summarize what students expect of their teachers and schools. Around 1,000 high school students, faculty and IT staff were involved in the study and the results show a worrying mismatch between technology use in school and in society in general.

The key findings are:
  • "High school students say technology is vital to their education and their future, but schools are not meeting their needs
  • Faculty members use technology to teach, but many students lack opportunities to use technology in class
  • To improve, districts should focus on developing 21st-century skills and bringing technology to class."
Often the technology is in place but not fully implemented or understood. I've seen examples of institutions buying in learning management systems that are then used as digital notice boards whilst assignments and material are still rolled off on the photocopier and students submit print versions of their work for marking. The tools are all there but old habits seem to die very hard. especially in education.

Another interesting statistic is that there is a considerable gap between teachers' use of technology at home and in school. Many have smartphones and use instant messenging and e-meetings at home but very seldom at work. So it's not a simple problem of teachers not using the net. They use it but don't seem to see the connection with education. Does school inhibit innovation in some way?

About half of the students felt that school was preparing them adequately for their use of technology in their future careers. In many cases the technology is present in the school in the form of wireless access, smartboards, learning management systems and so on but it simply isn't used to its full potential. Much of the teaching is still based on the communication norms of the past rather than using the media and methods that students are likely to use in the future.

The report concludes by offering practical suggestions on how to improve the situation. Teachers must encourage technology use in student assignments and make sure that material is always available in digital form. The key is to use technology wisely and as a natural and integrated part of all course activity. The net is already an integral part of our lives, both at work and at home. Why then is the educational sector still hesitant? Aren't we responsible for preparing students for a future career?

1 comment:

  1. I agree that we should use technology as cost effective training solutions, supplementing formal classroom sessions rather than replacing them completely.