The 21st Century Learner

Sarah FudinSarah Fudin works in community relations for University of Southern California Rossier School of Education’s online masters degrees in education. USC Rossier Online provides the opportunity for prospective teachers to earn a Master’s in Teaching. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

 

In the video “Rethinking Learning: The 21st Century Learner,” the MacArthur Foundation asserts, “Probably the most important thing for a kid growing up today is the love of embracing change.” As technology continues to evolve and become more integrated into our daily lives, schools can sometimes lag behind in the implementation of these technological tools. But the 21st century is not merely about utilizing technology to acquire content, but about being able to use those tools and information to create new content. Ideally, content and technology form a perfect union where students are encouraged to be innovative and learning occurs within and beyond school walls. The MacArthur Foundation has found “hardcore gamers” to be quite different from persistent stereotypes. These gamers tend to be creative, intelligent and eager to learn. However, they insist that learning be fun, which the skillful use of technology can better facilitate.

Preparing Students for the Future

All students come into the classroom with unique life experiences and attitudes. While today’s generation is seen as being “digital natives,” having been immersed in technology since birth, this is not necessarily the case. All students have different interactions with technology, often dependent on their access and parents’ feelings toward gaming, computers and social media usage, so it is important that teachers assist students in understanding technologies’ usefulness as learning tools. Technology can be the gateway to pursuing individual interests and gaining future college and employment skills. Still, it is important to realize that technology is not the only answer to motivating students, especially the most disadvantaged ones.

In the article “Preparing Students for the Real World,” Principal Peter Dewitt recalls teaching a young boy named Thomas. Thomas lived with his single mother and five siblings, many from different fathers. His mother had issues with drugs, spending time in prison and often moving from one town to another. Thomas was energetic and self-destructive, yet he was often sweet and wanted to please others. While Dewitt views technology as being a great asset to the classroom, empathy is, by far, the most important skill for a teacher to have. By showing students that you genuinely care about them and respect them, they will be far more successful than if you just provided them with content and computers.

Effectively Using Technology in the Classroom

Teachers need to use technology skillfully and responsibly. Certification Map writer Brian Childs provides a profile of New Jersey Principal Eric Sheninger, who is renowned for his ideas on integrating technology into the classroom. Sheninger explains that all technology-oriented instruction must remain student-centered and encouraging of collaboration. He recommends that teachers use Twitter to engage with parents and other educators. Educators can also use social media and other platforms to teach students the skills and tools that they can use to continue learning when they are not in school. Teachers need to continue attending trainings in using technology, whether via the Internet or in a live setting, and keep building their online professional learning networks. After all, teachers never stop being students.

Students will be expected to be technology literate in college and the workplace, so they need to be immersed in the relevant tools at a young age. Many countries start foreign language instruction as early as preschool, so computer literacy can start just as early. Technology can open up new worlds, but it is important to also be able to distinguish between when it can make instruction better and when it is unnecessary. Hands-on instruction is still quite valuable, so teachers must strive for a balanced curriculum.

Teachers: How do you create a 21st century learning environment for your students? Tell us in the comment section.

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