The world of education is changing. With that change has come a new focus on the ability of graduates to perform effectively in the workplace, and the question of whether credentials themselves are valued less than the skills, learning or knowledge they represent. In 2015, several leading companies, including Ernst and Young, Penguin Random House, and Deloitte all removed the requirement of a university degree from their recruitment policies, citing no clear link between holding a university degree and better on the job performance (BBC, 2015).
More and more students are taking online courses, with over a third of all post-secondary students taking at least one course online and over 70% of academic leaders saying that online learning is critical to the long term strategy of their institutions ( Allen & Seaman, 2015). With that, educators are starting to focus more on developing the skills needed for the 21st century economy, which has meant that knowledge management, or the ability to find, analyze, and apply information, and new information in particular, has become more important than all of the knowledge gained during one’s course of study (Bates, 2015).
Add to this pressure from administrators to embrace new classroom technologies, as well as an influx of tech savvy younger teachers entering the college system, and the stage is set not only for change but also for some huge opportunities for existing instructors to re-think how they teach their craft.
For teachers, this can be a scary thought. Most instructors I know, particularly at the post secondary level, were hired on the basis of expertise in their field. To now face a cohort of digital natives, who have access to the breadth of information accessible from smartphones anywhere there is wi-fi or a data plan, poses a whole new set of challenges, and can be downright scary. Much of the information students bring forward will be untested, unreliable, or even downright wrong. There will also be things you as an instructor haven’t seen and new insights that will add to your expertise.
This will undoubtedly create some discomfort, particularly for faculty who have been teaching the same subject matter for a long time. In my field of expertise (cooking), there have been huge changes in style and technique is the relatively short time since I left the industry, so without some way of being connected to those trends, there is no way that I would be able to even fathom some of the concepts that questions students may have questions about.
The question becomes, what to do as a teacher in this environment? Some will try and grasp furiously to tradition, and others will willingly embrace the technology that has effected the change. To be able to access something close to the sum of all human knowledge from the palm of your hand is overwhelming and presents a host of distractions, but also creates the opportunity to leverage that power for the collective benefit of the class. Technologies change rapidly, and as quickly as they emerge they change or are overtaken by a new trend. Without awareness and understanding of how students are changing their ways if accessing information, how are we supposed to help the students make sense of the informational overload and learn to select, analyze, and disseminate information? Perhaps we should be encouraging students to individually search for the same content and then work together to separate the wheat from the chaff. More than anything, we need to help students harness the technology and the world they live in and apply it to the context of learning.
By embracing the technology and speaking the same technological language as our students, we as teachers have the ability not only to be current, but also to be a leader and a catalyst for change within our organizations. For me, as an individual who entered the workforce just at the same time the personal computer did, I have seen the evolution and insight that using technologies as they emerge can bring. Having had to write assignments longhand or type them, without the benefit of spellcheck, fonts, or formatting, I jumped at the idea of a personal computer and every new technology since that has emerged with a new opportunity.
I’m actually quite excited about the opportunity that today’s connected society brings to the classroom. It’s now a given that students can go out and find as much information as they need on anything. I love the fact that I can watch something happening in the kitchen of one of the world’s top restaurants in real time on Periscope and interact from half a world away in real time. As I write this, the twitterverse was aghast at the rumours of moving from a linear to an algorithmic feed (Fingas, 2016), but it’s just another example of how rapid information moves in today’s world.
The role of the teacher is transitioning just like the world around us, and actually is allowing us to focus more on helping students understand the information they are given, than a focus on being the fountain of all knowledge. We need to be connected, to use the platforms they use and discover new tools for ourselves. We should be coming into the classroom knowing what was happening in the social feeds since we last saw our students, and we should be finding ways to use the tools of their generation to connect the knowledge of ours. To do anything less would be to turn our backs on why many of us wanted to teach in the first place – a commitment to the sharing of knowledge and life long learning.
Allen, I.E., Seaman, J. (2015) Grade Level: tracking online learning in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from http://info2.onlinelearningconsortium.org/rs/897-CSM-305/images/gradelevel.pdf
Bates, A.W. (2015). Teaching in a digital age [Bccampus open textbook version]. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/section-1-3-the-skills-needed-in-a-digital-age/
Couglan, S. (January 18, 2016). Penguin scraps degree requirement. BBC.com. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/education-35343680
Fingas, J. (2016, Feb 6). Twitter says your timeline isn’t changing (update: details). Engadget.com. Retrieved from http://www.engadget.com/2016/02/06/twitter-says-timeline-isnt-changing/