Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Curriculum, Textbook, and Pedagogy
|“Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games.” - Prensky|
Cultural Evolution and Education
The 21st century has brought with it the expansion of communication technology that has altered the way humans communicate with each other, learn material, and interact with text. This cultural evolution into a “techno” world has ramifications that affect educational curriculum, textbook development, and pedagogy. The need to educate those who have grown up in the world of fast-paced, immediate feedback from recently available technology has created new educational concerns.
Students must be taught skills that will allow them to be successful in their future endeavors, regardless of what they may be. The technology that exists today will not be the technology of the future. Students should acquire a set of generic skills and knowledge they could utilize in the decision-making process and other academic and occupational pursuits (Otto, 1986). Although there is some benefit in teaching kids skills they can apply immediately, there’s more value in teaching them deeper concepts that will benefit them forever, regardless of changes in specific applications (Nielsen, 2007). Educators need to find stronger themes, around which they can coordinate big ideas (Cavanagh, 2006). This allows students to make deeper connections with academic material. These themes can successfully be developed with the integration of current technology. Technology has the ability not only to develop these skills but also to present material to students in a manner to which they are accustomed. These computer literate students have been “programmed” to learn through digital technology. In order to be effective in teaching, teachers need to incorporate not only problem-solving skills, but incorporate appropriate technology training as well. If students learn problem solving skills, how to analyze data, and how to apply new knowledge to novel situations they will be prepared to tackle any task they may encounter in their future. Because technology is embedded in so many aspects of a student’s life, students need to learn skills that will allow them to effectively use this technology. These include creating hypertext, computer-supported presentation skills, and basic usability guidelines. In addition, students should be able to analyze the validity of data received digitally and assess the value of the material they obtain. There is increasing recognition that the end result of computer literacy is not only knowing how to operate computers but also using technology as a tool for organization, communication, and problem solving (Johnson, D. & Eisneberg, M., 2002).
A textbook is to students what software is to computers; something to be installed on them so that if testing reveals that loading did in fact occur, they can be certified as fit for use (Westhues, 1991). Some textbooks lack coherence, and others do not challenge students to think (Calfee, 1987). Textbook are designed in a way that makes it look at once authoritative (with lists of endorsements, ample footnotes, a hard cover, relatively expensive paper and graphics) and easy for students to study from as they prepare for tests (major concepts in bold face, a glossary of memorizable definitions, chapter summaries for last-minute cramming). Today’s students quickly become bored with the traditional textbook design. Life and learning can be so much richer, more constructive, more joyful than the textbook world allows (Westhues). Textbooks need to support the knowledge that is required for a course of study, but they need to do so in a way that allows today’s students to effectively interact with this material. Textbooks should be marginal in courses, while debates, discussions, computer-based presentations, and other forms of communication should be the main focus of the classroom. Textbooks should be chosen based on their ability to incorporate problem-solving skills, use real-life situations to support concepts, link material to broader understandings, and incorporate computer technology. Modern technology has allowed textbooks to be interactive by accompanying traditional texts with CD's as well as having companion websites. There are also now electronic textbooks that are exclusively online and that are written collaboratively using wikis. These textbooks are unique in that they can be accessed and edited by anyone on the internet. Electronic textbooks can present animation and sound and provide links to several items and suggest associations among ideas (Blystone, Barnard & Golimowski, 1990). Providing links to other websites allows students to learn about topics in more detail by reading additional articles, participating in online activities, and even watching movies. This allows the students to interact with the material in a way that the traditional textbook does not. With the new technology of wikis, students themselves are able to take part in writing part of their textbook. This enables them to learn about a spectific topic in detail, write about it, and then post it on the internet for anyone to read. When students do this, they take more responsibility and ownership in learning about the topic (Cragun, 2007).
This is not to say that textbooks should be discarded completely. Rather, they should be used as one possible resource among many. A good textbook can help to structure content and provide solid groundwork for further learning. For the inexperienced teacher especially, the textbook may provide information in a well-organized, coherent framework and could well save him or her precious hours that might otherwise be used for research rather than for preparing ways of making the material interesting to students. Moreover, the instructor is responsible for structuring the presentation of the material in ways that appeal to students with all possible kinds of learning styles. Whereas many students may respond more readily to digital text, no doubt a few will remain who enjoy reading and find the appearing solidity of the textbook reassuring.
However, in addition to the format of instructional materials, we must also look closely at content. Textbooks are often rife with inaccuracies, biases, and outdated information. Whether presented as a book, interactive CD, or on-line, texts and instructional resources must be selected carefully and questioned critically. History texts in particular are biased with a Eurocentric view. As teachers select materials to reflect the cultures represented in their classroom, they must not neglect those that are not. Perhaps no group is treated as unfairly in the retelling of American history as the Naïve Americans. In this age of multiculturism and appreciation of diversity, we still have not come to terms with this part of our history. We tend to pass over many facts of history. It is easier to believe that our country was founded on integrity, cooperation, and bravery and to ignore the atrocities. We still propagate the myths. Elementary schools nationwide still celebrate Thanksgiving with kids wearing pilgrim hats and Indian feathers celebrating together as friends and neighbors. We do not teach our children the fact that not long after, those same Indians were massacred by the English. Elementary children still celebrate Columbus Day as the “discovery” of the new world as opposed to beginnings of the conquering of an entire race of people. Thanksgiving and Columbus Day, holidays which we celebrate, are a time of mourning for the Native Americans. Textbooks, in whatever form, can be very influential, and we must ensure that students understand how they are presented. Students should be taught to question the information in any text and to look further for additional information. Never before has this been so easily accomplished. In this digital age the information is literally at our fingertips.
We cannot consider the issues of what students should learn and how textbooks should be formatted without looking at the audience of the 21st century. Today’s students are computer savvy. They have grown up in a digital world that has allowed them access to information at unprecedented rates. According to Prensky (2001), today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Today’s students are comprised of the first generation to have grown up in a world of technology. Email, the Internet, cell phones, PDI’s, instant messaging, and computer games are integral parts of their lives (Prensky, 2001). These digital natives are vastly different from the students who our current educational system was designed to teach. They have been networked most of all their lives. Today’s students will spend hours on My Space and Facebook, while they find it difficult to focus on book work for any duration of time. They have little patience for lectures, step-by-step logic, and “tell-test” instruction (Prensky). To design engaging learning experiences for these digital natives, the digital immigrants (those who have not grown up in a digital world) must be well trained in technology and understand its potential (Burke, 2000). Since the International Society for Technology in Education released its National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers, many states have developed technology standards for current and pre-service teachers (Burke, 2000). In many states these standards address teacher proficiency with technology, as well as provide a framework for inclusion of technology in ways that will meet the learning preferences of today's students. Those who have grown up surrounded by digital technology communicate differently and use different problem solving methods (Pasteur, 2007). They prefer receiving information very quickly, parallel processing and multi-tasking, and working with graphics and hypertext over text. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards, and they prefer games to “serious” work (Prensky). Games embody well-established principles and models of learning. For instance, games are effective partly because the learning takes place within a meaningful (to the game) context (Van Eck, 2006). Research has consistently found that games promote learning and/or reduce instructional time across multiple disciplines and ages (Van Eck).
As educators, we need to adapt our lesson presentations to these digitally “programmed” students. There is little hope that these digital natives will “power down” their minds to become more engaged with traditional learning styles. From the digital natives’ point of view their digital immigrant instructors make their education not worth paying attention to compared to everything else they experience (Pensky, 2001). This is not to say that existing teaching styles need to be ignored; but they need to be augmented to include digital avenues that will stimulate today’s students.
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Burke, Jennifer. (2000, October). New direction—teacher technology standards. Southern Regional Education Board. Retrieved May 26, 2007 from http://www.sreb.org/programs/EdTech/pubs/NewDirections/NewDirections.pdf
Calfee, R. (1987). Those who can teach, teach… Education Policy, 1 (1), 9-27.
Cragun, R. T. (2007). The future of textbooks?. Electronic Journal of Sociology. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from http://www.sociology.org/content/2007/_cragun_futureoftextbooks.pdf
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Pasteur, E. (2007, April). Digital native or immigrant? Just Askin’. Retrieved May 4, 2007, from http://www.secondlifeinsider.com/2007/04/05/digital-native-or-immigrant-just-askin/
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. NCB University Press, 9(5), 113-118.
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What adaptations can be made in the classroom to more effectively educate 21st century students?
In order to teach the “digital natives” I incorporate differentiation into my lessons in order to give the students a variety of presentation styles. This keeps them from becoming bored with repetitive delivery of material, and supports the workings of their “fast-paced” digital brains. Each lesson has a component that involves a hands-on approach to learning. Laboratory investigations, discussions, student-created multi-media presentations, Web Quest, debates, and Internet aided instruction (imbedding links in lectures to animations, etc.), are all vital to the delivery of material. Many of my laboratory investigations involve the use of interfacing probe ware, CBL’s (computer based labs), and modern biotech equipment (PCR, Gel Electrophoresis, pGlo (gene transfer between species)). In addition, students are asked to develop their own questions about topics and to then design an investigation to answer that question. Lecture is designed to be inquiry based; the students are actively involved in discourse as new material is presented.
I do not use the textbook in my classroom. Students are assigned a textbook that is kept at home for reference. Handouts, multi-media presentations, discussions, lectures, investigations, and student presentations are the main forms of presentation of material. Students have told me that they like the CD that accompanies the book because it has animations to reinforce concepts. This would make sense since they are digital natives. After the presentation last night, I am planning on incorporating new technology tools into my instruction. Blogs seem to be great ways to have the students share their ideas and foster group work. Questions can be posed that can be answered with collaboration and problem solving skills. The development of problem-solving skills is vital due to the fact that information changes rapidly.