Changing classrooms to provide a relevant and engaging experience for digital natives presents a unique challenge. Today’s students are growing into adulthood in a totally different reality than that experienced by their teachers, and in order to provide an engaging environment, it is time to adjust. Cell phones present a huge research resource at the tip of our fingertips, yet are a constant power struggle in the classroom. Social media, often blocked by school safety nets, are impossible to ignore as an influence and outlet for today’s student. The gaming world is a huge presence in the lives of even the youngest learners, yet often allows for exposure of inappropriate materials. So how do we balance? How do we meet the needs of today’s students and provide them the tools they need to be successful for jobs that don’t yet exist?
Integrating technology into the classroom is must. Rather than debating over allowing the use of cellphones, internet safety and digital citizenship should be a focus. Using social media as a way to demonstrate the prominent need of critical thinking and discerning the credibility of sources allows students to gain some life skills deficient in many adults. This is a means to support how to use evidence to support an opinion in a real-life setting.
Wikipedia presents another unique opportunity. Wikipedia is regularly heralded as the least worthy source for research, however it is almost always the first that pops up in a search. In one virtual school setting an English teacher walked his students through the Wikipedia certification process and had them publish their research on Native American Tribes onto the site. This gave students a unique opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than their classroom, and to understand why there might be questions about the validity of certain sources.
Technology also provides the ability to showcase work, art, poetry, etc. on a global scale, and to connect with like-minded people no matter the location. Teaching students appropriate outlets for their work and how to create their own pages, blogs, curate their own collections, etc., provides relevant job skills to truly demonstrate their talents and abilities.
Finally, for those who are limited in the ability to attend brick and mortar, technology provides some very unique opportunities to continue to participate in school through different avenues. Our district has two iPad “robots”, that allow students who are medically homebound to experience not only their classroom during live time, but to attend lunch and other settings and to interact with their peers, despite being physically absent. It also can provide staff that travel between buildings to attend meetings in a more interactive manner than a phone conference without losing time to travel. We have a very large district geographically and traveling to other buildings for meetings can be very time consuming. Our ESD has also started using this for county meetings.
As we teach to the future of tomorrow, holding on to traditional ideas does not provide a benefit. Using technology as the life-changing tool that it is and embracing it as a gift for schools will ultimately better prepare students for life.
Dr. Katie Schweitzer is the Director of Student Services for Oregon Trail School District. She has been a teacher and administrator in Oregon the last 12 years.