Currently, I am in Chicago attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention. The events of the day made me really think about what we should be teaching our students. I decided to write this post. And, although some people may take offense to parts of the post, as all good blog posts, it is intended to generate thought and discussion.
We hear this term "21st Century" learning/tools/skills/etc thrown around a lot in the educational field. The implication being we need to teach children skills that will help them in our ever-changing world.
In Adam Bellow's Tech Commandments, he asserts that the most important 21st Century skill is Collaboration. He argues the tools we use aren't that important because tools will change, the skills needed will not. I agree with Adam. After the events of today, however, I believe adaptability should be right up there with collaboration.
As Karen LaBonte said in her session, "The first rule of technology is something will go wrong." Those of us that use technology frequently in the classroom understand and accept this.
Reliance on Paper
I use Google Docs extensively with my students. Before I left for NCTE, I told my students their most recent assignment needed to be submitted to my by printing it on paper. My students were stunned. I explained to them that I would be traveling and may potentially not have access to the internet and I wanted to be able to grade their work regardless. I was planning ahead for my own sake, but also modeling that skill for my students.
The first session I attended today was called "Power of Audience: A Collaboration in 21st Century Literacy". I will admit, it wasn't my first choice, but that session was full when I arrived, so I moved to my next choice. To my delight, it was an excellent session by Tom Zuzulock and Perri Sherrill from Bozeman, Montana on using Google Docs for collaboration. Their presentation was well organized, demonstrated at a level I thought was appropriate to the audience, and gave some good "take-aways". They opened the last 10 minutes up for questions and the very first question was, "Do you have a handout available?" The presenters handled the question well and responded, "Send me an email and I will send you a Google Doc." I wanted to scream, "Have you not been listening to this entire presentation?"
Why such a reliance on paper? I was taking notes on my iPad2 and saw many others as well. I saw some taking notes with a notepad, which is fine if that's what works best for you. But, to sit through a "21st Century" presentation and expect a paper handout seemed unreasonable to me.
Until the next session that is. I won't mention the session title nor will I give many details as I don't want to insult the presenters. They seemed to know their content well and were very qualified to be presenting. However, their presentation relied heavily on paper handouts. When many participants didn't get a handout, they had no back up plan. If you didn't have the paper handout, it was difficult to participate. So, I left the session and went to an informative session on using video games with writing.
The next session I attended was titled "Fly Me to the Moon: Making That Giant Leap Into Digital Pedagogy". One of the presenters was Jen Roberts. I knew Jen from our time together at the Google Teacher Academy and knew she was technologically very savvy, so I expected a good presentation. I was not disappointed.
The first presenter was Karen LaBonte and her main message was that we need to embrace technology. We need to embed it (pun intended) into our daily lives. Jen Roberts followed. Her main message, which I whole heartily agreed, was that our goal as educators should be getting to the moon (she made an analogy to Apollo 8), but many of our colleagues aren't even in orbit. Therefore, we need to help them get "into orbit."
Along these same lines, tweeted by Carl Young during the day was the statistic that only a little over 5% of teachers are using technology for writing instruction. And, the main technological tool is an overhead projector. He got that information from a session by Arthur Applebee and can be found here. It seems we have a significant amount of teachers that aren't even looking up, let alone preparing to be in orbit.
I wish our paper reliant colleagues had seen this presentation. I felt it was a gentle push in ways teachers could get into digital pedagogy. I have a Masters in Mass Communication (from a life before I was a teacher) and there are some principles of advertising known as the push strategy and pull strategy. I won't spend time explaining them. I think you'll figure them out using context clues. But, applying them to education, I'm more of a pull strategists. I move forward at a fast pace and expect my colleagues to be "pulled" along with me or to drop out. These presenters did a better job of using a push strategy than I could have. They are "pushing" colleagues through the process. I certainly admire that. I just don't have the patience to do it. And, again, no paper handouts were provided! The presenters instead posted a link to their presentation and also encouraged the use of twitter to communicate with them and others.
My afternoon sessions were great, but don't really apply to this post, so I'm not detailing them here. However, I did find out the Jon Scieszka was a very humorous individual and had great interplay with M.T. Anderson and Chris Van Allsburg. I hope to attend his session on humor tomorrow.
What? No Wifi?
Speaking of Twitter, I was following the hastag #ncte11 all day. The "trending" complaint of the day was the unavailability of wireless. Many of the tweets seemed to imply NCTE was to blame for this. Many pointed out the irony that the title of the convention included the phrase, "writing the future".
Granted, lack of WiFi was a bit frustrating, but it is far from NCTE's fault. As a matter of fact, NCTE books their conferences 5 years in advance. I'm basing this on the fact that they have the next 5 years published in their program. Could NCTE have known 5 years ago that the Chicago Hilton wouldn't provide free and/or reliable WiFi? WiFi could be purchased for like $15 for a day. I didn't check the actual price because I didn't need it. My hotel right next door had free WiFi! But, that is what I think I heard someone say. I'm sure NCTE will make a note when booking their conferences 5 years away to get WiFi included if possible. But, by then, we could all have 14G technology in our mini-tablets or whatever device is the popular choice at the time.
I heard one attendee complain that a session put on by two very good presenters ran awry when they couldn't access the WiFi for their presentation. My thought was, "What was their plan B?" Would we accept this excuse from our students? I don't. Every time my kids give a presentation, I tell them to have a plan B. If the technology fails for some reason, they should still be able to give a reasonable good presentation given the circumstances. I've presented at conferences with spotty WiFi and I downloaded the Google Presentation to my computer in advance just in case.
Interestingly enough, I just wrote an extensive grant to get multiple Chromebooks for my school. One could argue that, had I brought a Chromebook to this conference, it would have been virtually unusable. I love working "in the Cloud." I'm a Google Certified Teacher, so I embrace new technologies before many others do. I love to see technology perform the way it was intended.
However, opposite to our paper reliant colleagues, we also seem to have many WiFi reliant colleagues. This is why I believe adaptability should be looked at as a vital 21st century skill.
What do we teach our kids when we allow lack of access to frustrate us? What do we teach our kids when we panic when technology doesn't perform as expected? What do we teach our kids when someone gives a presentation and doesn't present it in the manner we prefer (no paper handouts)? If we're teaching students to be good learners, we must to teach them to be adaptable.
What do you think? Is adaptability vital? Or, should it be realistic to expect certain givens in our field? Should NCTE have provided us with free WiFi? Let me have it if you disagree. Let me have it if you agree. As I said, I want this post to generate discourse. That's how we improve our field.