Changing Teaching and Learning in Ubiquitous Computing Environments

This is a topic that my colleagues and I have been thinking a lot about lately. This blog entry by Will Richardson (who posted it while at eLive in Scotland), provided the impetus for me to post something on the topic of change as well.

Will makes some very thought provoking statements and is right on the mark when it comes to the current educational system, at least in the U.S. What we are starting to see in Ohio is that kids oftentimes tend to learn DESPITE of what they do in school. This comment is not meant to bash teachers, because many of them are doing great things, but the problem lies in an antiquated educational system that was not designed to prepare students for life in the 21st century (see e.g. statements made by Bill Gates at the National Education Summit on High Schools in 2005), especially when it comes to useful, meaningful, and ethical ways to use technology in everyday life (and what is useful etc. to us may not be to the students we teach!).

So what is the crux of all of this? How does teaching and learning need to change to catch up to the 21st century? Obviously, education needs to change, and the changes need to be profound. As I see it, this would, could, and should happen in the following areas:

Rethinking teaching:

  • Rethinking curriculum (i.e. what is taught)
  • Rethinking pedagogy (i.e. how we teach)
  • Rethinking boundaries (i.e. where teaching takes place, both in time and space)

Rethinking learning:

  • Rethinking engagement (technology engages students in learning, so why do we take it away so often?)
  • Rethinking individualization (one of the great potentials of technology is that it provides opportunities for learning that fits the learner, and not vice versa. Think for example about mobile devices, one-to-one computing, and online tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasting, etc.)
  • Rethinking collaboration (again, technology provides many opportunities for collaboration, both in time and space. It doesn’t matter if who I collaborate with is sitting next to me or is on the other side of the world, current technology enables me to collaborate. It doesn’t matter if we collaborate in real time or asynchronously, technology provides the tools to do it).
  • Rethinking learning for all (this includes students with special needs at both the low and high learning levels)

One of the biggest dilemmas that we face here is that these ideas sound great and would make for a very different educational system if implemented systematically and successfully, but how can we actually make them work? How can we get teachers, administrators etc. to actually think about these ideas and figure out ways to use them.

As Will Richardson says in his blog, education is afraid of technology, because technology means change, and change in education has been and still is an oxymoron. Outside of traditional school settings, kids are using technology for all kinds of ways, whether the technology was intended for those kinds of uses or not. I think it is more than time that we get the students we teach involved in the decision-making process. Let’s ask them what technology they use, how they use it, who they use it with, and how they could use it for learning. This is being done in some places (see e.g. this report by EducationEvolving). I think they could teach us a thing or two about that. Once we get this dialogue going maybe we could teach them about using technology in ethical and safe ways (education’s main concerns when it comes to technology use by kids)….

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