Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Leap Out of My Comfort Zone

A Leap Out of my Comfort Zone
      What does it mean to be an effective teacher in today’s digital classrooms?  I thought I knew.  Yet as I reflect on what I have learned over the past eight weeks, I realize what limited knowledge I actually had.  Microsoft Word and Power Point certainly help us to do the same things more efficiently, but these tools don’t truly reflect what 21st century learning skills encompass.  Classrooms are a very different place than 20 years ago (Thornburg, 2004). The right time, right now 2.0 Web provides anytime, anywhere instant information that students are already proficient at using.  Research has shown that in both the general education population and among students with learning disabilities, when engaged in a technology rich environment, there is a positive correlation to student achievement (Keengwe, J., & Onchwari, G., 2008).  Acknowledging this changing landscape in my classroom, I must transform my educational practices to prepare my students for the workforce of tomorrow.  This means to take a giant leap out of my comfort zone and reface my instructional practices to enhance student learning (Premsky 2005). 
     Toward this endeavor and resulting from my recent research, I have come to better understand the nuances of the 21st century digital native as well as my own digital immigrant status. (Premsky, 2005).  I recognize the importance of maintaining high expectations and goals that cover the required standards while simultaneously using my students ‘most preferred learning tools, those of technology,  to motivate and engage them. Students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.  They have spent their entire lives using digital tools.  They like to multi-takes and parallel process and do so much differently than their predecessors (Premsky, 2001).   Getting to know my students better will be instrumental in the refacing of my instructional practices.  Through surveys, student profiles, and class discussions I can tap into their learning preferences, styles and knowledge to plan meaningful and motivational lessons. Additionally, collaboration will be a key element to my new approach to delivering 21st century skills.  No longer will instruction be from a hierarchal model, but rather a collaborative one in which teachers are facilitators and decisions are made with students about curriculum development , teaching methods, school organization, discipline and assignments (Premsky, 2005). Writing projects must become a conversation beyond classroom walls, rather than a finite process submitted to one person for a grade. 
      My participation in Technology 6710 has provided me with a model to emulate when integrating digital learning tools into my teaching.  The research I have done supports the urgency of making this transition to 21st century learning.  However, as a digital immigrant, relinquishing control from a teacher centered to a learner centered classroom will continue to be a struggle.  I experienced this anxiety first hand during our Wiki assignment.   I was concerned over sharing the responsibility of a group assignment and the possible outcome.  This fear was not alleviated until the activity was graded and completed.  Additionally, I was astonished at how my inexperience in creating a Wiki forced me to act as digital natives do.  They rely on their interconnectedness with their peers for support and their ability to instantly access information through the World Wide Web to ensure their success.  We were required to take a risk, use the technology tools available to us, and come to a consensus to the satisfaction of our group members; and it worked.  My blog and podcast experiences were similar eye openers.   I kept wondering where the manual is.  To my surprise it was more exciting, more engaging, and empowering to discover the power of these Web 2.0 Read/Write tools through research and investigation.  The most important component of these learning tools is that they are constructivist in nature; a part of a much larger body of knowledge that is represented by the internet. The potential for collaborative, relevant, meaningful projects integrating these tools into the curriculum is unbounded (Richardson, 2010).    Although I have not yet developed the experience and competence in using the blog, wiki, and podcast that I desire, I recognize the empowerment generated by using them regularly in my professional practice.  Toward this goal, my students have already begun to contribute to their own blog that they have just started posting to called, “See It My Way”  As the students complete their postings, we will set up a conversation with another classroom across country to engage in our discussions.
     In order to fully integrate technology into my curriculum, I have to maintain my willingness to take a risk, to learn from my students and alongside them.   I have to do what I will ask my students to do; commit to a lifetime of learning.  The best possible way to do so is to actively participate in collaborative technology groups at my school, in my district and through online educational organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education.  Following educational journals, wikis, blogs, and podcasts, will also be instrumental in my quest to become proficient in providing my students with 21st century skills that will be required by tomorrows workforce.
     When considering long term goals for my own classroom, I will establish a collaborative plan with another teacher to team “facilitate” the initiation of a school wiki.  Interviews, podcasts, reviews and blogs, will be strategically planned and integrated into the course curriculum and created by collaborative student groups.  My second goal will be to investigate and follow through with a way to provide regular better computer/web access to my special education students.  I plan to research other district special education classes, identify the resources they have available, and engage my PTA, community advisory board, and administration to assist me in obtaining the resources I need to provide 21st century skills to my students.  I will also investigate grant money to fill this void. 
     Reflecting back onto the checklist for technology integration practices, my pedagogy has already dramatically changed.  There isn’t a lesson that I create without considering whether a collaborative product with real world significance could be developed to meet the goal.  Due to my students’ limited access to technology (we have one computer) progress is slow.  However, my first endeavor to create our persuasive blogs is already generating an engagement level not present in my classroom before.  Prior to this class, I delivered content to my students.  I now share in their research and investigative practice to find truth on the Read Write Web. Together we evaluate the credibility of the evidence we find by using a variety of resources and comparing the evidence.  Additionally, my students are now encouraged to display their learning in a variety of ways utilizing a variety of technology tools to demonstrate their understanding.  My most valuable learning from this class is that technology doesn’t mean just doing old things differently but doing new things.  My leap out of my comfort zone and into using 21st century learning tools will be not only the beginning of a technology rich environment for my students, but a model for the rest of my staff in how to use these tools effectively.

Keengwe, J., Onchwari, G., & Wachira, P. (2008). The use of computer tools to support meaningful learning. AACE Journal, 16(1), 77–92.
Prensky, M. (2005). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8–13.
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
 Thornburg, D. (2004). Technology and education: Expectations, not options. (Executive Briefing No. 401). Retrieved from

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