I haven’t delivered as promised on Part II of iBooks Author. It remains a work in progress, and will have to wait in the cyber shadows for the time being.
Today’s topic is “Cyborg Teachers Versus Adaptation,” and is inspired by something that struck a chord this past weekend while attending and presenting at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ annual convention and world languages expo in Orlando.
This year’s convention was called “New Spaces, New Realities: Learning Any Time, Any Place,” and the rich menu of presentation sessions and workshops that this particular theme offered up showcased how eagerly language teachers in particular are embracing new computer-mediated communications tools to reach students in virtual spaces and to train them for the world of today and tomorrow. I was particularly interested to see a German professor from Denison University, Gabriele Dillmann, presenting on her work with Google Hangouts, a subject of an earlier blog post here at transformingteachingandlearning.wordpress.com. I will share some of her interesting approaches in a follow-up post. Suffice it to say that I have only just scratched the proverbial surface on that front.
One of the more compelling presentations from the various I attended alluded to the threat of “cyborg teachers” taking over instruction. EdX, Coursera, Udacity, MOOCs, K12 – these are the disruptive technologies of our times, and, just as they embody the promise of technological innovation to democratize and drive down the cost of education, so, too, do they present a threat to the livelihoods of the teachers who have worked so hard to hone their knowledge, skills, and craft.
The presenter’s challenge to the audience was to embrace an adaptive mindset, to think differently about how we do what we do, to insist on being part of the conversation about reimagining the traditional classroom to better prepare our students for participation in a society which places a premium on critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creation. The alternative to adaptation was presented as the cyborg teacher.
The physical classroom space is it is currently conceived is part of the obstacle to adaptation, and I was left thinking how wonderful it would be if – just for starters – all classroom surfaces were writable so that students could enjoy more non-seat time and spend more of their time engaged in active and collaborative learning. Desks have to be moved to facilitate collaboration, and poster board and notebook paper (which ultimately end up filling up garbage cans) simply don’t get the creative juices flowing the way a large, white wall would. It could even be low-tech marker boards (in some schools and homes walls are painted with a writable and erasable paint), but what I’m really imagining is actually more along the lines of wall-to-wall SmartBoards on steroids, something we would write on in virtually any color with stylus-like tools (no ink needed), that could be erased or screen captured with the click of a teacher’s mouse. While they could ultimately be developed into portals to the World Wide Web and all the accompanying and incentivizing opportunities for sharing that the Internet offers ($$$), these interactive white board walls would be the perfect complement to the 1:1 tablet computer initiatives that are being rolled out in so many of our schools. Students could use their tablets to take photos or videos of their collaborative wall work, then use any number of apps available to reflect in speech and writing on the learning process, ultimately uploading their artifacts to an eportfolio accessible by all of a given student’s stakeholders. It is easy to imagine, too, that tablets will one day feature built-in projection capacities (in addition to wireless mirroring, naturally), and having 360-degrees of white board space on which to project their tablet work would certainly be engaging for our students.
We’re talking about the iMax of classrooms here, only rather than passive, seated viewers and consumers of something created by somebody else, we would have active creators and collaborators, critical thinkers and communicators, partnering with teachers to share their thinking process and their creations with the world.
It wouldn’t be that we had raised the “surrender” flag and declared direct instruction dead, but the building blocks and scaffolding necessary would be delivered differently (flipped, maybe, although I’m not entirely persuaded that flipping holds the key), and class time would be an opportunity to hone in much more dynamically and collaboratively on developing the knowledge and skill set necessary to succeed in an increasingly complex and globalized economy. Rather than adding shock and awe to our PowerPoints, we teachers would spend our time creating ambitious new team-oriented projects and educating our students about Bruce Tuckman’s “forming, storming, norming, and performing” stages of effective teamwork. We would have technology rich stations in the classroom that facilitated each of these stages.
Finding the funding for such a classroom is, naturally, a huge hurdle. It’s cathartic to write this, though, because when new learning spaces are designed and built for us and for our students, we are seldom asked as teachers what we think about the plans. More often than not, it is assumed that we want your traditional unidirectional classroom with a few marker boards at the front, an LCD projector, and a pair of speakers. Imagine how different classrooms would be if they were designed by teachers and students.
Circling back now to my own presentation at the ACTFL conference (“New Approaches + Traditional Best Practices = Meaningful Mobile Language Learning”), I alluded at the outset of my presentation to the three-circled Venn-style representation of the skill set necessary to be an effective 21st century teacher. The three circles are (in no particular order) Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), Content Knowledge (CK) and Technological Knowledge (TK).
After attending ACTFL this past weekend, I am more convinced than ever that language teachers are embracing the adaptive mindset that will save us from the cyborg teachers. Like Gabriele Dillmann at Denison, many among us see the value of the TK circle, we embrace it, and we work to maximize its potential to improve learning outcomes.