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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

ISTE NETS*T Part 3: Model Digital-Age Work and Learning


This is the third in a series of five articles about the NETS*T (National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers) from ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education).  We are accustomed to thinking about standards for student achievement.  But we can really raise the bar by having a certain level of expectation for teachers in the use of technology.  What better way to encourage students to gain important life skills than to model them ourselves?

The third of these standards is “Model Digital-Age Work and Learning.” 

Model Digital-Age Work and Learning

Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society. Teachers:

  • demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations.
  • collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation.
  • communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital-age media and formats.
  • model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning.

(excerpted from http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/NETS/ForTeachers/2008Standards/NETS_for_Teachers_2008.htm)

Wow, this is tricky.  Many of us in the teaching field grew up in a time when “digital-age work and learning” as we now know it did not even exist outside of science fiction.  We watched “The Jetsons” and imagined a future where we would eat tiny pills of nutrition and talk to people while seeing their faces on a TV screen.  Our food hasn’t gotten that small (yet), but we do have videoconferencing available to almost anyone.  We don’t live in space or drive hover cars, but we do have the ability to work from almost anywhere we can get online, and this has changed the way we live.  It’s harder to leave work behind when we take breaks, and we are always reachable.  We have laptops, smart phones, and tablet devices that enable us to run programs and access files from where ever we have access to electricity and wifi.

Instructor and students at computersOur students have never really known a world without these conveniences.  There has been talk of digital natives and digital immigrants.  As someone who straddles the line between these distinctions, I am not comfortable embracing these labels.  However, I know that my generation often has to learn and become comfortable using tools before they can model them or instruct others in their use.  But what most educators may need to overcome is the fear that they may look like they don’t know enough.

Nobody knows enough.  If we begin by modeling for our students that we don’t HAVE to know everything – as long as we’re willing to work and learn new things – then we can just relax and let the kids teach us.  Most of them can figure it out faster than most of us anyway.  Before you think this is a cop-out, step back.  Realize that this IS a form of modeling.  Don’t just leave them to it and walk away; roll up your sleeves and investigate along with them.

But there are some tools you should learn how to use so you can be better at your job as an educator.  These include productivity applications such as Microsoft Office and its cloud-based counterpart Google Docs.  You don’t absolutely need to learn only these, but since these are the most commonly used word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs, it would be remiss of you to ignore them.  What you learn in one is fairly easy to transfer over to another.  As I have worked with students and teachers over the past several years, I have noticed that the teachers who most quickly pick up how to do things in Google Docs are the ones who regularly used Office apps.  They attend and actively participate in trainings.  They ask good questions.  They try new things on their own.

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re already one of “those” teachers.  But you probably know at least two or three colleagues who do not match that description.  What can you do to come alongside such an educator and bring them up to speed?

If we require students to hand in typed essays that are double-spaced and a certain font size, aren’t we hypocrites if we don’t know how to change the line spacing or font size in a word processor?  There will be students who don’t know how to do this and who are afraid to ask.  A good idea might be to open the program in a whole-class situation, showing on the big screen where to find these settings and how to change them.  Even better if you fumble a bit to find them (fake it if you have to) – your students will feel more at ease.  Don’t let some kids interrupt or be pushy about showing off what they know.  Just talk them through your thinking process of searching for and locating the functions in the menus.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this standard, I believe, is the part about communicating with students and their families and teaching them how to correctly find and cite information.  Many schools have a centralized system they use, such as a school website with built-in tools.  My school uses SchoolFusion, but there are many platforms out there.  This site enables parents and students to look up assignments, download handouts, and easily contact me directly if they have questions.  There are also blogging tools, message boards, and other ways to share resources, including podcasts, photographs, and videos.  Sometimes, when I suspect I may need to explain something in great detail many times to different people, I will make a video in which I use screen captures to take parents and/or students through the steps of a process.  That way, they don’t need to feel embarrassed and seek me out.  The information is there, and no one will know whether they used the tutorial to help them.

Instructor oversees student computer workAs for research, it’s clear to me that no matter how many times you model and teach and lecture, students will not remember all there is to know about where to look, how to be discerning, and how to correctly give credit for information and media they need to use for their school work.  I start each year of middle school with the same “Works Cited Scavenger Hunt” project, in which students find and cite a variety of sources on a selected topic, and I still have students struggle throughout the year with finding and citing information and images.

For each individual project, have a clear list – or even better, an online repository with links – that spells out where students may or may not get media and information for the project.  Before students turn in their work, give them a checklist that reminds them to verify that the sources are acceptable and correctly credited.  And then don’t be at all surprised when they still do it incorrectly.  But don’t lower your standards.  Take points off where needed and keep assigning these tasks.  These are life skills, and the requirement for them isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Finally, and I can’t preach this enough, model failure for your students.  Demonstrate for them how to react when things don’t go the way they want or hope.  When you make mistakes, point them out and use them to illustrate examples of how everyone fails sometimes.  Look for examples of failures or disappointments in your own life and explain to your students what you learned from each experience.  Too often our students don’t get the message that trying and failing is better than not trying at all.  And since it’s the best, quickest way to learn technology skills, failure is a basic building block of digital-age work and learning.

Images courtesy of NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org.

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