Future’s So Bright…

 

“When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over.” – Thomas Friedman

What a great line to begin a post on looking ahead. Friedman’s comment is, not surprisingly, in reference to the “new” educational rage of MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. In his 2013 New York Times Op-Ed piece, ‘The Professor’s Big Stage”, Friedman recounts how he learned the answer to the question “How can colleges charge $50,000 a year if my kid can learn it all free from massive open online courses?” 

And what a question, indeed. If students can learn whenever, wherever and for FREE, are our jobs as educators doomed? Let’s look into the future…

JD Hancock via Flickr Some rights reserved
JD Hancock via Flickr Some rights reserved

2021

In five years, teachers will be in the classroom, alongside their students, functioning in relatively the same way that we function now. That is, teaching for understanding through a variety of techniques, strategies, activities and modes. Teachers will use technology, but they will also lecture and encourage students to discuss, debate and struggle to find meaning.

2026

It’s hard to say what sort of advances in technology will have come about. Will we finally get those flying cars, a la Marty McFly? Will we be closer to curing cancer? Poverty? The Wage Gap? Will teachers finally become, as many doomsdayers have said, obsolete? I don’t think so. I think, as Jahana Hayes (2016 Teacher of the Year) observes, education will have teemed up with “ industries that can afford to keep up with technology”. We will work alongside industries of technology to augment and innovate our classrooms to reflect the trappings of the “new world.”

Teaching does not look like what it did five years ago. I can take my kids on a tour of the Smithsonian from my classroom; I can Skype into another educator’s classroom.”

Jahana Hayes, 2016 Teacher of the Year

2031

I’ll be officially old. Or, with all the advancements in technology, healthcare and nutrition, I’ll be back to my youthful 20’s! A person can dream, and that is what the future is all about, after all. Dreams of what our reality can be. In the classroom, my vision is one where students are still coming together in some capacity, be it in a room with a view or in a Starbucks lounge. They are still grappling with the age-old questions of existence and purpose. They are still striving to make connections with one another. They are still struggling to find their own identity and meaning in life. And teachers? We’ll still be there, guiding them on that journey. It might be a virtual experience, but it will be personal. Of that I’m sure.

 

Whose job is it?

Me: “You studied this in your computer class, right?”

Student: “Umm, what computer class?”

Me: “Right…”

It has been my assumption for a while that most of my students either have taken, are in the process of taking or will be taking a computer literacy course. My assumption is, unfortunately, incorrect. Most of my students, actually, have never taken a course dedicated solely to computer literacy. The course is usually offered in some variation as an elective class and unless a student expresses a keen desire to learn “Gaming 101”, chances are they haven’t taken the course. They, like many of the adults in their lives, assume  that “simply because they were born in an age when these technologies were pervasive,” they are somehow savvy to all of the vast and subtle rules of the digital highway.

Bill Fry Mire

 

This has left me in a conundrum. I’m trying to integrate technology into my English classes, but find that with all of the other requirements of the course, namely the English 10 Common Core Standards, I’m struggling to fit everything in. 

What’s an English Lit teacher to do? I want my students to use technology as a means to furthering their interaction with literature, but I feel like I need to add a few weeks to the school year in order to teach them the skills of digital citizenship. In her book, It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens, Danah Boyd draws emphasis to this very point:

Teens will not become critical contributors to this [Internet] ecosystem simply because they were born in an age when these technologies were pervasive. Whether in school or in informal settings, youth need opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to engage with temporary technology effectively and meaningfully. Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age.”

So, whose job is it to teach our students how to be positive, contributing and critical citizens of the internet? Partly mine and partly that of the rest of the adults in their lives: parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, counselors. But are they getting this digital citizenship training in any other classes or areas of their lives? Honestly, I don’t think so.

I must confess – as the weeks of our blogging unit progress, I do feel a great weight on my shoulders that I think is disproportionate compared to teachers of other core subjects. I’m spending quite a bit of class time discussing various aspects of their online profiles, including videos about being careful about what they post online and those that encourage them to consider their legacy; engaging in lengthy Socratic Seminars on the merits of Snapchat vs. Instagram and the fact that Facebook is now considered by teens to be “dead to us”; and of course, the “Do’s & Don’ts” of blogging. 

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/middlehigh_poster
Commonsense Media

All of this to say that I, as an educator, am feeling slightly overwhelmed with the weight of teaching students to navigate this nebulous and still-new-to-me digital highway. For my part, I am starting to take this monolothic job very seriously and am thankful that my school has recently opened a new position for a high school technology integrator. Hopefully, next year all students will be required to take a course similar to the one Reuben Loewey has designed. Or even better, more teachers will begin to integrate aspects of digital citizenship into their own courses. And as scary as it sounds, just as we are all teachers of writing, I think we have all now become teachers of computer literacy.