Marc Cohen

Grew Up Analog: Where Do I Plug In?

Earlier this month, I had the chance to attend the ASCD Annual Conference in San Antonio, Tex. The theme of the conference was "Critical Transformations." While at the conference, I spent most of my time going to sessions that helped me grow my understanding of what students need as 21st century learners. 

I must admit that I am a bit of a technology geek. It is not that I am particularly skilled at writing code. I have Ubuntu on my computer at home, which the guy at Staples thought was way cool, although he was disappointed when I told him I hadn’t heard of Linux. I don't understand what all the beef is with Windows, and to me, Bill Gates is just a VERY wealthy guy who gives billions to help schools innovate. I know about Facebook and MySpace and have even been known to tweet a bit, but I don't own a whole lot of gadgets. I am the only one in my family, including both of my kids, who does not own an iPod, and my 7-year-old thinks it is funny that I didn't know you could watch television from your computer until he showed me how a few months ago.

What I mean when I say that I am a technology geek is that I find 21st century technology, especially those designed to enhance learning, to be really cool and really exciting. I have watched my students flourish when lessons have been designed to integrate educational technology. SMART Boards, activotes, active expressions, mobile laptop labs, wireless connections, Kurzweil, alpha smarts, Skype, Web 2.0, YouTube, webex, and so forth—all of these and more are currently being used to capture our students' attention, to accommodate their learning needs, and to help our teachers communicate their lessons more effectively and efficiently.

At the conference, I had the chance to hear Don Tapscott speak. Some of you may have heard of Tapscott, who has made quite a stir with his national bestseller, Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. His new book, Grown Up Digital, came out last year and was the focus of his keynote address that morning. In his speech, Tapscott urged educators to "empower student-led collaboration and to reinvent traditional methods of instruction by embracing technology." Tapscott said, "Internet is not a problem; it is a learning opportunity…Don’t blame the Internet for how our approach to learning and thinking has changed. That's like blaming the library for ignorance."

Students today are far more plugged in than ever before. They no longer respond as they may once have to the "sage on the stage" approach to teaching and learning. In the blink of an eye, or more aptly, the click of a keystroke, they can access much of the information presented in traditional lectures. Students today are hungry for lessons that engage their minds, that promote critical thinking and collaborative problem solving. They want to be trusted to access information for themselves and seem to be asking for the opportunity to construct and apply their knowledge more independently.

Tapscott's presentation really got me thinking about how we structure our day, organize our classrooms, and lock students out of so many online resources that they freely access from home or on their cell phones. I am interested in hearing how folks in the ASCD community have integrated the ideas Tapscott discusses in their schools and what the impact has been on student engagement and performance.

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