Preparing students for a world that has been transformed by technology should be top of mind for educators these days, noted Jeff Utecht and Shelly Sanchez Terrell, presenters at the LHRIC’s Jan. 8 TLI event held at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor.
|Jeff Utecht presenting at the recent TLI event|
Both experts stressed the importance of engaging students through the appropriate use of the Internet, using social media channels as a learning opportunity and being accepting of the various tech channels that young people subscribe to these days.
In his talk titled, “A New Learning Landscape,” Mr. Utecht, an educational technology consultant, educator and author, recalled his travels across the globe and the various uses of technology that have cropped up in the most unlikely of places.
The Washington State native remembered the time he was riding on a camel in the Saudi Arabian desert a couple of years ago, and when the person leading the way pulled a cell phone out of his pocket, Utecht was in awe since there was no cell phone tower to be seen.
During a visit to a small community in Laos, where villagers often band together to purchase one cell phone, Mr. Utecht was taken aback by the entrepreneurial spirit of one young man who had set up ink jet printers outdoors and was printing pictures from cell phones.
Utecht said technology has become so ubitiquous that most of us can no longer mark the dividing line between our work and home lives. “In an always on world, we are seeing that line completely fade away, and as a result, we expect people to manage their own time,” Mr. Utecht added.
Knowing that students are also heavily invested in this “always on world,” Mr. Utecht wanted to know what local school districts are doing to maintain social networks in their school buildings.
Connection is crucial
“The foundation of the Internet is to connect people,” Mr. Utecht noted. Even the new Common Core State Standards encourage students to write online, he said.
Teachers shouldn’t worry about the tools and technology platforms their students are accessing. “The important thing is that we get technology into their hands, because we want every kid to have an app called the Internet.”
In addition, he said that school-wide wireless access should be a given in every district. “In fact, every school should serve as a public hotspot, providing open Internet access to the public after 5 p.m. and on weekends.”
As well as that, every teacher should have a computer that gives him or her administrative rights, and if schools do not allow students to use school-owned devices, they should be able to bring their own to school, he added.
How much time a child is allowed on the Internet at home is completely up to parents, Mr. Utecht emphasized. “But really, it shouldn’t be whether or not they are on a computer, but how much time they spend creating versus consuming.” Creating content, like the activities that Minecraft encourages, is good for students. “We have to consume before we create,” he added.
Mr. Utecht urged participants to examine what they’re teaching in schools and to tailor their instruction to the tools and applications that are available on the Internet. Teaching digital mapping skills, showing students the various parts of a Google search webpage, teaching them online reading strategies and how to highlight words, use sticky notes and other strategies are all skills they should know as they prepare for the new computer-based testing.
“I encourage you to continue to push forward,” he told the group. “We need to find the walls and keep tearing them down, move past our fears, educate our students for the future and not their past, and just do what’s right for the kids.”
In her presentation titled, “Byte-sized Potential in a Digital World of Possibilities,” Terrell talked about giving students the responsibility to accomplish “practically anything in the world” using technology.
Having traveled the globe training students and teachers, Terrell knows that technology can be accessed by anyone, no matter where they come from. Some examples include students she taught in refugee camps who have taught themselves English through YouTube and Minecraft.
“When you are working with students and technology, there may be times when they will screw up,” said Terrell. “But if students never messed up, how could they correct their behavior?
Setting goals day by day
Terrell is someone who is not afraid to try something new. In 2009, she signed up for Twitter and a year later decided to start blogging. As the blog matured, she kept coming up with a list of goals and ideas she could write about on her blog. When 2011 rolled around, Terrell decided to plan her goals with a support group and that’s when the 30 Goals Challenge began.
Today, there are 10,000 teachers from around the world who have joined Terrell and accomplished at least one goal. Some goals might be as simple as giving a student a high five, others might entail writing a note to a parent praising his or her child's performance in the classroom, while another might focus on the decision to let students choose their own topics for learning on any given day.
The idea, she said, is to inspire teachers and students as well as help them build valuable relationships. “You can’t expect your students to see their byte-sized potential unless you do that too,” she noted.
This year, Terrell expects to continue with the project, but is also going to focus on the stories that came out of the various goals and the effect they had on teachers and students.
Growing online education discussion
Three years ago, Terrell and fellow educators Steve Anderson and Tom Whitby created the hashtag #Edchat on Twitter. The idea was to create a collaborative tool for educators to debate and evaluate solutions focused on teaching and learning.
Terrell said there are now approximately 500 teacher conversations under the #Edchat hashtag. Even Education Secretary Arnie Duncan has followed the discussions, she added.
“I think it’s really important that our students see we are willing to jump in there,” said Terrell, referring to the activities of instructors online. “We don’t have to have the answers, but if we are daring them to do something, we have to be daring ourselves.”