21st Century Learning: Who Will Light the Match?

A couple weeks ago, a colleague and I had the chance to guest lecture a class of pre-service teachers.  This group of approximately 30 college students are in their last semester before heading in to student teaching.  They are excited and they are eager to start their careers.  And they are so optimistic.

We had the chance to teach a lesson on anything we wanted so we decided that we would focus on instructional tools.  We spent the first 90 minutes modeling a lesson that employed both a Back Channel and Padlet.  Then we spent the 2nd half of class discussing the utility of instructional tools, how content must still remain at the core of the lesson, and what this can all look like once assembled for your students.  As a side note, we even developed the entire lesson for the class from our different homes using collaboration tools within Google.  We were truly modeling what can occur using technology.  Finally, we shared the need for these future teachers to begin their professional learning now, even before they are professionals.  Twitter chats, podcasts, and other items were shared as means to develop a Professional Learning Network (PLN).    It was a great experience and we were jazzed to enter the classroom.

PLN Puzzle

The students greeted us warmly as they had been prepped by their usual lecturer for us and would surely represent him well.  We entered the room certain we would inspire, confident we would bring new learning to their world, and convinced that the pupils would end the lecture with the ultimate praise – the slow clap.

Our takeaway turned out to be something quite different.  While the lesson went well and the students were engaged, the tools were new to them.  And so they found each one novel and spent some time chatting with neighbors about how they could be used in student teaching.  Everything was going as planned.  The 2nd half of class found them interested and asking questions.  Surprisingly they were not familiar with Twitter and certainly had not yet constructed a professional account.  The class ended a bit early (always popular), and though there was not a slow clap, they did thank us for the learning.  It was thumbs up all around.

I am the principal of the largest high school within the Houston ISD.  Our school was in Phase One of the district’s PowerUP initiative, and thus we have been a 1:1 campus for just under three years.  Students have a laptop 24/7 and we have supported our teachers as they also transform their instructional strategies.  The content remains critical – the device is a tool.  And as I spend each spring and summer looking to hire new faculty members to the team, I am always in search of candidates that have experience working with instructional tools, operating with a Learning Management System (LMS), and that are willing to embrace 21st century learning trends.  As my partner and I were debriefing as we closed down and walked to the car, an alarming piece of learning emerged for us.  And as we reached the edge of campus and could see our car under the parking lot lights, we both came to the same conclusion.  Student teachers were not learning how to teach in a 1:1 or blended learning model.  They weren’t having modeled for them the ways in which tools can enhance the content and learning.  And thus they were possibly leaving a full teacher prep program without directed experience using the exact resources that employers would be seeking.

Light the Match

Yes, we were operating with a single experience in one class, however it made us wonder how well are teachers being prepared for what we know is to come.  At the same time there was this other reality:  That my experience is not the norm.  I don’t mean that as a gesture toward being exceptional; rather that my school is not a typical large public school.  It isn’t (yet) the standard for a school to issue 3600 student laptops each year.

So I began to wonder how much the tools and modes for accessing and demonstrating learning that we work hard to avail our students of are then lost upon them once they enter the college/university level.  Aside from the use of an LMS, how much are professors making use of different tools?  How much progress is happening?  Will the tipping point come from the K-12 model or the post-secondary setting?  Or will supply & demand prevail?  I really don’t know and thus it makes me have doubt in the whole enterprise.  And that’s scary as I have seen, with my own eyes, in classrooms I frequent, the power behind this new means of learning.  It’s too important to “wait & see” yet that is an easy stance to take.  Where does the sense of urgency originate?  How does the match take fire?

Overalls Work.png

This is hard work.  And it cannot be done alone.  I would love to hear from others how they are approaching this new frontier.  Are you a principal and about to embark on this path?  Are you a teacher that is exploring?  A student teacher about to step out on this skinny branch?  Or are you working on the University level and wondering where to begin?