So, after doing some research, my thesis is taking a somewhat different direction. Instead of focusing directly on digital literacy, I’m looking at best practices for incorporating digital literacy and educational technology into curricula. This includes using technology to augment a curriculum, or teaching digital literacy alongside other content, emphasizing increasing students capability to use the internet as an effective educational resource.
A few interesting findings I found for optimizing educational technology usage were that the best implimentations came from teachers that A: had high levels of confidence and ownership of technology, and B: were learner centered/not test focused. When a teacher is interested in using technology to boost test scores, it’s using the resource ineffectively. There are a million ways to boost test scores, and most of them are low tech. The real promise of using the internet and technology in schools is through inquiry and learner centered, self directed research, all of which hinges on some degree of digital literacy. Teachers aren’t adequately preparing students for the 21st century by teaching them how to test, they have to teach them how to effectively utilize the best informational resource known to mankind, the internet.
Unfortunately, the US tends to be so ridiculously test based that teachers, in my experience, see educational technology as a tool to prepare kids for tests. In my student teaching experience I saw this quite a bit, as well as a sense that teachers were rather uncomfortable using a lot of this technology. The ones that were used it for test training. Now, it could be argued that a digital literacy curriculum is too advanced for grade school kids, but I have found literature suggesting otherwise. But until schools stop demanding that teachers teach to the test, things won’t change.
Still, every now and then I find the odd teacher/librarian who owns the technology and is interested in utilizing it effectively to promote real learning. That’s comforting, as at least some teachers are trying. However, from what I’m seeing, these teachers are either younger teachers who are rather gutsy, or older teachers who are so deeply entrenched in their department that, as one teacher told me, “They can’t get rid of me.” Ironically, this teacher, despite not teaching to the test at all, had some of the best test scores, but at the same time conflicted with the administration about test related things.
Finally, a note on virtual academies. In my small amount of experience interviewing people in a virtual academy, I found that the technology used was rather primitive, and there was a definite push for that. Because this particular VA was being used as a dumping ground for students who had failed at traditional schools, their test scores were crappy at best, and that’s even when the students showed up for test days. (Most, not having a steady schedule for their schooling, simply saw no reason to show up for a test that had no real bearing on anything.) Due to this, their curriculum consisted of flash based tutorials and a test engine. It didn’t really focus on any higher order thinking, digital literacy, or the latest and greatest in educational technology. Instead, they were so focused on increasing student test scores to save their budget that they took what could have been an amazing opportunity to increase digital literacy and create self directed learners, and squandered it.
Now, part of this was due to their student population- most of the students were not highly motivated in any way shape or form, but there were a number of students who were there by choice, and it seems unfortunate that the habit of dumping the ‘last chance’ kids there ruined the curriculum. So, thanks to this, there was no ability for teachers to implement any of the best practices for online schooling, and the virtual academy was considered to be failing.
The bottom line is that, for effective educational technology usage, teachers need to both be confident in the technology, and be interested in student learning, not test scores. Only then can students have the best, most authentic experiences learning with technology, a skill that is essential for life in the 21st century.
What are the observable features of a teacher who, in terms above, owns the technology? What achievements or distinguishing characteristic mark the teacher in this privileged position? To what degree does an administrator, colleague, or student need to be technology saavy herself to be able to value a teacher as a one who has ownership?