I work at the intersection of culture and technology in the field of education. There has never been a better time for professional educators to take the lead in shaping the future of education. In order to do this, they must commit to changing educational beliefs and practices with regards to digital technologies.
The NPR article cited in this blog post highlights the emerging complexity of institutionalized education. At one time the challenge was equipping educational institutions with digital technologies so that teachers could ‘keep up’ with evolving societal engagements with digital technologies. The development and promotion of MOOCs illustrates an extension of this problem: the commodification of educational ‘products’ purported to replace social and relationship-based educational processes. If teachers perceived their roles and responsibilities were threatened to be usurped by machines and software in their schools, that issue pales alongside the threat of teacher presence being replaced by websites and online discussion boards.
Educators’ response to these changes and challenges in the past has been to say, “This is not my concern,” or, “I don’t teach that way.” However, teachers’ non-involvement with digital technologies is a tacit form of approval for the incursion of digital technologies from other professions – business, computer science, economics, and administration. By actively avoiding the development of a coherent response to digital technologies in education, teachers have endorsed others to do so, and the results have everything to do with profit metrics and very little to do with real teaching, learning, relevant curriculum development and evolving pedagogy.
There is much for educators to do, first and foremost, to become leaders in their field: to bring masterful knowledge of the social life of teaching and learning, highly sophisticated understandings of the relational intricacies that foster enthusiasm for learning, commitment to endure the difficulty of learning, and self-efficacious practices to accomplish sometimes dull, sometimes systematic persistence to complete learning projects. The digitization of learning activities does not equal good learning, just as sitting in a classroom does not denote exceptional learning experiences. These are not mutually exclusive enterprises, they are, however, contested and demand a vigorous educational response.
I argue that the field of education has done a great disservice to itself in its failure to appreciate the significance of teacher learning and teacher education. I have just completed reviewing over 3,000 titles of education research pertaining to digital technology published in since 2010. On average, the ratio of research topics pertaining to student learning in relation to teacher learning and teacher education is extremely out of balance, in the order of 20 titles pertaining to student learning with digital technologies to every title addressing digital technology in teacher learning and teacher education. This preliminary finding leads me to conclude that the field of education is not well informed about teacher learning and teacher education with regards to digital technologies. I propose this lack of information is contributing to a lack of real leadership and direction from educational practitioners when it comes to shaping the future of education in the digital age.
The above mentioned article about MOOCs and online education highlights the problem. The absence of adequate and substantive, ongoing research into teacher learning and teacher education with digital technologies means there is a gap in knowledge about teaching and learning. Until teachers take up the challenge of researching and publishing their own findings on the significant aspects of learning as philosophical, social, cultural, relational, psychological, curricular, and pedagogical expressions of complex inter-personal communications, there is going to be a continued absence of this knowledge in the field.
Lectures are not inherently bad, although boring lectures are very difficult to learn from. Online resources are not inherently good, however exceptional online resources can foster learning in ways unimaginable. In class learning relationships are not inherently productive, and dynamic face to face learning encounters can inspire a lifetime of inquiry. Communicating through network media is not necessarily anonymous and anti-social: networks of learning relationships can yield knowledge and information unavailable within local geographies or social connections.
There is a profound need for educators to take up the challenge of providing learning leadership in the digital age. To take up this challenge, educators need to consider their own professional learning through, with, and about digital technologies as an ethical imperative of the profession, not an add-on to existing practice. We cannot predict what changes this conceptualization of the profession will entail. We do know what will happen if we maintain the status quo. The work of learning and shaping our future social consciousness will fall to those whose primary motivation may or may not hold the social good as its guiding principle. Whatever the intentions that motivate these non-educators, they cannot possess the hard-won knowledge of building productive learning relationships that is at the heart of every passionate educator. These are the professionals that we need to bring leadership the field in the 21st century.
The first step to enacting the transformation of the education is to talk about the condition of the field, digital cultures and technologies, and learning. We need these conversations to begin the process of critically inquiring into our own philosophical, social, cultural, curricular, and pedagogical transformations, and consequently, the transformation of the field. Through these conversations we build our own professional learning relationships sustained by networked media and our intrinsic belief that the contribution of educators is imperative to the future of the field of education. As we implement changes to our practice, we have a system of support enacted through personal learning networks online and in our local schools. We develop the enthusiasm, commitment, and self-efficacy to endure the uncertainties of bringing digital technologies into school settings, the ambiguity of conducting formal learning through online connectivity, and the sometimes dull, sometimes intriguing processes of learning with, through, and about digital technologies in the education profession.