Battle of the Ages

Our current education system is in the midst of a great transition battle between the industrial and digital ages. Many classrooms are in limbo, torn between traditional instructional methods and more modern methods. So, how do we complete the transition and fully move the education system into the digital age?

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Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be in an industrial age, in education. The industrial age did not allow for us to “educate or train everyone to high levels. The predominant form of work was manual labor. In fact, if we educated everyone to high levels, few would be willing to work on assembly lines, doing mindless tasks over and over again. So, what we needed in the industrial age was an educational system that sorted students – one that separated the children who should do manual labor from the ones who should be managers or professionals” (Reiser and Dempsey, p. 75). Essentially, students who were less intelligent were flunked out of school, and those who excelled were promoted to higher levels of education. Grading systems and norm-referenced assessments were put in place to determine who passed and who failed.

So, how have industrial practices carried over into today’s classroom? Well, we still have norm-referenced assessments like ACT’s, SAT’s, SBAC’s, etc. Those assessments make it difficult to provide students with criteria based feedback on their performance, and make it more of a challenge to eliminate ‘grade/GPA competition’ between students, ultimately making collaborative work a challenge. Furthermore, slower learners have a difficult time keeping up with the content being presented. Since many education settings have to deliver a fixed amount of content in a fixed amount of time, it does not afford slow learners the opportunity to master the content before moving on (Reiser and Dempsey, p.75).

On the flip side of things, the digital age has made its presence in classrooms as well. The integration of technology is a slow one, however, many leaps and bounds have been made already. Textbooks are becoming digital, classrooms are becoming mobile, personal technology has an accepted place in the classroom, hybrid courses are being offered, social networking is encouraged, etc. All of these great advancements have been faced with quite the challenge…finding their place among our industrial based system. As the integration of technology grows, education and all things associated will truly become its own post-industrial entity. Many of these advancements can be grouped in the category of Web 2.0. What’s that? Well, Web 2.0 is “a platform for a host of commercial, entertainment and learning applications” (Reiser and Dempsey, p.300). This platform helps to broaden the walls of the classroom and maximizes the scope of collective intelligence of the participants. The benefits of the Web 2.0 tools have the potential to elevate the learning experience for everyone, but there are many challenges that must be overcome first. For example, many of the Web 2.0 tools require training, so the instructor can successfully deliver content to the participants. As of now, professional development for teachers lacks the necessary time and focus to address these needs. Another pressing issue is the participants ability to regulate their motivation and volition. Many students are dependent upon directives from the teacher, and at times, motivation is driven by extrinsic factors, like grades and GPA’s. For Web 2.0 tools to take off and maintain sustained success will require a shift in teacher/student relationships and essential skills being taught in the classroom. The instructor role shifts to a more facilitative role, which affords them the chance to observe more and provide better criteria based feedback to the students. Students will also need to practice and develop better skills to assist them self-monitoring. There will be a shift from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. Our slow learners will have a chance to participate in their learning, at their own rate, so they can master content.

Ultimately, learning is a holistic, collaborative process, and our education systems needs to reflect that. The pieces have been put in place to get the ball rolling, however, until policies, facilities, standards, and many other factors align, this ongoing transition battle will be stuck in limbo.

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This transition period can be seen in many school systems, mine included. Just this year, there were many discussions surrounding class levels, and class tracking (a.k.a. honors, academic, and remedial classes). Many of our students will not take lower level courses that they are interested in because the lower ranking of the class affects their GPA. In many states students have transitioned from their state-wide norm-referenced tests to the SBAC norm-referenced tests (many of which consume quite a bit of class time for preparation!) However, we have also started to see an increase in technology integration into the classroom. The addition of Google ChromeBooks, 3D printers, iPad carts, laptop carts, and personal devices have made the learning experience more engaging for the students, and has broadened the range of available lesson content. Our district is heading in some kind of direction towards a more criteria based assessment, however, we are slow to adapt an alternate way of teaching and learning. Our alternative education program uses online classes to cater to the individual needs of those students, but that type of program is not available to all students. Many of our staff members have taken it upon themselves to explore Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms, and a couple of our PD sessions have given us a taste of what’s happening in the school; but it is not near enough time to truly be trained on what’s available.

As a second year teacher, I am getting ready to strap into my seat, nice and tight. I think education will be on a bumpy ride over the next 5-10 years. I am excited and nervous to see how my environment will change, and how teacher programs will change to meet these needs. The battle between the ages will strike a change in the education system from preK to a university level.

How is the battle of ages fairing in your school? What Web 2.0 tools have been added to your environment? Do you feel they are being used to their fullest potential? How do you feel about the transition?

I look forward to hearing what you have to say! In the meantime, get yourself up to speed with some of the amazing Web 2.0 tools that are available here and here.

Happy trails, and happy learning!

-Leigh Anne

 

References:

Reiser, R. & Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology [3rd edition]. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

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