Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The heart of the matter

I said a while back that I wanted to focus on adult education in this blog, and I have attempted to do so -- without a lot of success. But I started reading adult ed blogs at least. A post on Technology for the Adult Education Instructor today caught my attention today. What it says is applicable to all levels of education, I think, but it is definitely true of adult ed.
Of course, schools have evolved. But has staff evolved as well? To some extent, yes, but is it enough? From the iPhone to Wi-fi to the Wii, technology is part of daily life for students. Yes, there are pockets of educators creating innovative 2.0 interactive Websites and Podcasts, but it is hardly a universal phenomena. The average instructor is satisfied with accessing 20th century technology. Many have changed (usually reluctantly) to LCD projectors and PowerPoint presentations but I am sure that in most every school there are still those using the overheads with abandon....

A lot of people have been saying this: that the problem is the current staff/ employees, not the difficulty in transitioning to whatever the new thing is. And I agree. It is the reluctance of teachers to change and our inability to envision a new way of teaching that slows us down. The technology is out there waiting for us.

And yet, I think about my own situation at the moment. I would willingly teach with all kinds of technology if my students had access to it. I would happily use the most modern and up-to-date gadgets if I had access to them during class. But I don't. So what do I do? How can I exploit technology if I have only a chalkboard?

There are still ways to include technology in my teaching. My students, unfortunately, do not get to participate in it, but they can benefit from it anyway. At the very least, I can avail myself of the wealth of information that is out there and inform my teaching accordingly. I can provide my students who have Internet access with web addresses of sites that might help them with their study of English.

Something else that I can do, and something that intrigues me more than these other options, is to try find low-tech ways to enhance my students' learning. What I am looking for are ways to encourage student investment in learning, connection both with the topic and with each other, and deep thinking. One tool that immediately comes to mind are HipBone games. There are others.

I think, then, that it all comes back to the teachers. Are we willing to change? I don't think that technology will save us if we are unwilling to examine our own classroom practice and its suitability for our situation and our students. I think that there are times and places where overhead projectors are just fine -- better than LCD projectors even. And I can use PowerPoint all day long, but it won't help if the lesson I am teaching with it isn't relevant to my students and their lives. It isn't the tool as much as what we do with it that matters.

I believe that we, as teachers, are at the heart of education. We shape what happens in our classrooms by our action or inaction, by our creativity or lack of it. And that is where I see technology as critical. We can get our encouragement and our ideas from what others are doing. Technology gives us access to classroom practice in hundreds, if not thousands, of classrooms around the world. It gives us access to teachers who may be more creative than we are or who, at least, are ahead of us in learning about some of the options that exist. No other form of professional development is as personal and as universal at the same time.

The tools are out there. The knowledge exists. What remains to be seen is what we do with them.

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