As the digital generation enters the workforce, does their technology skillset help them meet specific job-related challenges? This question has important implications for the digital-age classroom.
Writing on the future of work, David Mills notes, “the true ‘children of the internet,’ who won’t remember a life before broadband,… are headed en-masse to workplaces now.” Beginning teachers bring with them an almost instinctive comfort with technology, in particular with social media. It follows, then, that they're able to meld technology and pedagogy. Right? Hmmm. Perhaps not.
Recent findings suggest that "digital native student teachers have not necessarily become more comfortable keeping pace with the fast rate of change in technology." And an article in Educational Leadership, from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), highlights what may be the roots of the challenge.
In What's Missing from Teacher Prep? Gary Chesney and Janice Jordan discuss the discontent that beginning teachers voice about their university-level preparation programs. Here's a chief cause of that discontent: "the use of technology in preservice classrooms was limited, and training in how to integrate technology into lesson planning was virtually nonexistent." The authors recommend that teacher training programs "embed technology in their coursework in all classes." This concern casts a cold eye on digital native's "instinctive" abilities. Instead, like any job-related skill, technology integration must be learned and practiced.
Related to this challenge is “technology transience,” the rapid proliferation of technology tools, the frequent update of such tools, and their ever-shortening lifespans. Writing in the Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Lin Muilenburg and Zane Berge note that it's “incumbent upon teacher preparation programs to consider how to build teacher capacity to both integrate technology and manage the challenges brought about by technology transience.” The authors note that successful integration requires TPACK: the interaction of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge. Their conclusion? “Effectively using technology in an ever-changing technological environment can be... quite complex.”
The need for support and training extends to the new teacher's classroom. Novice teachers face and surmount many challenges, but they can't be expected to design and implement their own high quality, standards-based lessons right from the start. Of course, few try to accomplish this in a vacuum. In many education communities, grade-level learning teams provide some support. But even with such support, in the end, teaching is still an individual challenge.
In addition, the technology tools a teacher has mastered often differ drastically from the ones she finds in schools. For example, new teachers may be experienced Apple/iOS users presented with Chromebook carts, or Google/Android users might find themselves in a 1:1 iPad classroom. Moreover, pre-service teachers often achieve a level of comfort with a particular resource only to be presented with an entirely new, mandated program when they enter their new school. Neither of these challenges is insurmountable, but both steepen an already difficult first-year learning curve.
The implication is not that universities uniformly ignore the importance of technology in their teacher training programs. But all parties should be aware that a novice teacher’s mere familiarity with a technology does not automatically lead to effective integration in the classroom. That kind of integration requires ongoing support.
Well-implemented school and district-based technology integration plans can give teachers the support they need. In North Carolina, the Rutherford County school system has developed just this kind of program. The district's technology leadership team developed a comprehensive approach that included a 1:1 laptop initiative, professional development training, and direct support for teachers to find, evaluate, and integrate high-quality digital resources into instruction. The result was more effective use of technology across multiple middle schools and high schools in a single year.
The lesson seems clear. Assuming that new teachers automatically “get” technology is not a recipe for success. Instead, teaching educators how to use and integrate digital resources and providing a strong support system for technology integration can help ensure that classroom instruction meets the needs of digital-age learners.