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Why teachers matter in the Digital Age

Posted by jturner56 on November 1, 2015

Nothing like teaching to focus thinking on why teaching matters and what it should be focusing on (in addition of course to what student learning means and how each each student matters). Perhaps any credential to comment on such matters should include current practical experience.

As I started a Grade 7 Design + English project two thoughts bubbled to the surface. Firstly, watching a teacher unite Selfies, personal and social identity, and Narcissus in one class discussion highlighted the role of teachers in helping join ideas (some with historical antecedents) in a social context.

Secondly, how each year I have taught Grade 7 (which is long enough to go back as far as you want re digital) I have had to adjust the expectations of digital aspects of learning to accommodate the students new level of development. For example, this year we are supporting personal choice in online video learning in support of skill development through folio creation for challenging software (in this case Illustrator). Teachers not only have to be digital learners, they also need to be able to translate learning for students in changing times. This needs also to take into account where students are in their development. There are too many generalist contentions that fail to differentiate between whether the student is five, ten fifteen or twenty.

What then should teaching by about in the Digital Age? One could go to Steve Wheeler’s (2011) Learning and teaching in the digital age for calls that teachers should be focused on new learning built around critical thinking, collaboration, creation, curation, reflection, evaluation and ‘learning how to learn’. Social media featuring prominently with calls for more focus on understanding networks and connection building. Others call for new divisions between what is taught and what machines can look after. Yong Zhao et al’s (2015) Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes being a case in point. Me, I’m more interested in what Clive Thompson highlights in Smarter than you think (2013), that human-machine teamwork has the potential to outdo machine only or people only approaches (A thought that goes as far back as Papert).

With this in mind, I see teachers not needed as sole, separated, segment ‘experts’, but as digitally associated

  • filterers of opportunity and information, for students facing a world overloaded with information and choice
  • fellow road builders to an unknown future (which has always been the case)
  • lampholders to help students find ways forward
  • modellers of ways to traverse such roads
  • social conveners, as schools are communities of people first and foremost

Teaching at its heart is not about being progressive or traditionalist, black v white justifications; it’s about helping students find paths through complex, increasingly disconnected forests. And the future we wish to build.

Viva la teacher.


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