There’s no denying that education has evolved from a pen, paper and textbook affair to using smart boards, iPads, online resources and even mobile apps. With all the technology available at our fingertips and our move towards becoming a completely connected global community, incorporating it into the classroom only makes sense.
If you’re aiming for a career in education, utilizing technology effectively is a crucial skill that you’ll need to be able to demonstrate. It’s a skill that can set you apart from the rest of the crowd, whether you’re applying for your first job in education or you’re trying to show your employer why you’re a valuable asset to the school.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the gap in technology skills in teaching, how technology is enhancing the learning revolution, what future educators need to know about technology in the classroom and what future trends may be on the horizon for technology and education. With this information, you’ll be equipped to begin your own learning journey and understand how you can use technology to enhance your students’ learning as well as your own teaching methods and value.
You’ve heard it many times before: that today’s graduates are facing the toughest job market of any generation and that there’s just not enough employment to go around. It’s a horror story for those just about to enter the workforce, and graduates everywhere are creating backup plans for their backup plans in case they’re not able to find a job in their chosen field.
While this outlook of doom and gloom might be the case for many, those entering the workforce with highly specialized skills could have a very different experience. According to Brett Good, the senior district president of Robert Half, a specialized staffing firm that conducts workplace research, we’re seeing a “tale of two job markets” at play.
“The general job market shows relatively high unemployment rates. However, the job market for specialists with in-demand skills is a completely different story,” he explains. That’s because talent shortages have emerged within high-demand areas, and the competition for top candidates has intensified.
According to a survey conducted by Adecco Staffing US, 22 percent of the 500 top executives polled said they’ve seen a technical skills gap among the workforce talent pool; another 12 percent singled out computer-based skills as lacking. And this is across the board, not just among software or IT companies.
For aspiring teachers, this presents a huge opportunity to stand out from the rest of the job-seeking crowd. By focusing on growing their technical and computer skills to bridge the technology gap in education, future teachers can prove their value to potential employers and improve their chances of holding onto a job during an unstable market.
The Growing Technology Gap in Education
While education has not traditionally been considered an area in which highly specialized technical skills are required, as more and more technology is used in the classroom, educators will need to adapt. To meet this demand for skilled talent across all industries (including education), colleges and universities are stepping up their game by offering more career-focused coursework and incorporating the latest technologies into classroom studies.
As online and blended learning environments become more common, we’ve begun to see many changes to the traditional classroom. For example, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) are rising in popularity, and iPads and SmartBoards are becoming regular classroom fixtures from K-12 and beyond. With these evolutions in mind, education programs that rely on Technology Enhanced Learning can help prepare aspiring educators. How else can tomorrow’s teachers be expected to instruct the next generation of already-digitally savvy students if they haven’t used a variety of modalities and tech tools themselves?
The good news is that most of today’s education students are already gearing up to offer their future students a technology-enhanced classroom experience, whether their educational programs have formally prepared them to do so or not. The study “Learning in the 21st Century: Digital Experiences and Expectations of Tomorrow’s Teachers” conducted by the national education nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow in collaboration with Blackboard Inc., lists the many informal ways in which future educators are using their personal technology knowledge to prepare for their careers.
Says the report: “Beyond coursework or class assignments, pre-service teachers are also regularly searching for podcasts and online videos (45 percent) to help them self-prepare for their future teaching assignments. Their familiarity with social networking opens the door for personal sites such as Facebook to be used for project collaborations or homework help (35 percent).”
Great (Tech) Expectations
However, the more telling finding of the survey is that school principals expect their prospective teachers to have an already-developed technology skill set in order to give them hiring consideration. “Principals want new teachers to know how to use technology to create authentic learning experiences for students (75 percent) and how to leverage technology to differentiate instruction (68 percent) before they apply for a position at their school,” says the report.
In other words, one’s ability to demonstrate how he or she will utilize technology will be a key consideration in the hiring process. That’s because, as with nearly all professions, hiring managers know there’s a shorter learning curve for those who already have the right technical skills to do the job, says Good.
“Job seekers should brush up on their technical skills and highlight these in their application materials and during interviews to give themselves a greater advantage over other applicants.” Add to that the fact that educational budgets simply do not allow for adequate on-the-job training, and the burden is on the teachers to keep up with tech trends as they arise.
By pursuing a program of study that offers a technology-enhanced learning component, students can get some first-hand experience, and perhaps an advantage in the job market. “Technical skills are expected of everyone, not just IT professionals,” says Good. “Students should do all they can to gain the technical skills in demand for their industry.”
There was a time not so long ago in which technology was perceived as a distraction and diversion to traditional education. Online degree programs were considered inferior to a campus-based degree program by educators and employers alike, and not everyone had access to technology tools, thus creating an uneven educational playing field.
While Victor Rivero, editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, points out that higher education will probably live forever, he also notes that students and technology are collaborating to fundamentally change what education looks like to students and teachers. More students are choosing to pursue blended and/or fully online learning options, and traditional educators are flipping classrooms and incorporating an array of tech gadgets and platforms into their lessons. Instead of being limited to learning in the classroom or forced to use heavy books and notebooks to study, students today can use mobile apps or online programs to study at different times and places throughout the day, a strategy called “distributed practice” that’s been proven to be the most effective way to learn.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are also taking online learning into the mainstream as many of the nation’s top colleges and universities have gotten on board and begun to offer free classes to the public. Media giants like Apple (through its iTunesU) and Google (via its involvement of the forthcoming MOOC.org) are continuing to help power education technology. Even the President is a big supporter of digital learning, as evident by the ConnectEd initiative, which aims to upgrade connectivity, provide access to learning devices, support teachers, and ensure high-quality digital learning resources.
Of course, as Andrew Marcinek, director of technology at Groton-Dunstable Regional School District in Massachusetts points out, no one device is going to change education for good; however, the process by which teachers instruct students is on the verge of changing dramatically. And with that in mind, it’s important to understand what aspiring teachers need to know in order to succeed in their evolved workplace.
It’s not only software, engineering, and IT companies that expect their workforce to be up to speed on the latest skills. Educators must also learn to set themselves apart by learning how to teach the next generation of students using technology. Gone are the days of blackboards and lecture podiums; make way instead for iPads and mobile apps for studying.
However, that doesn’t mean that teachers should consider technology in isolation. According to Dyane Smokorowski, the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year, technology can only enhance learning when it’s viewed in conjunction with other components of lesson planning:
“The key to effective technology in education is to consider it the third component to lesson planning rather than the first. Teachers need to ask themselves, ‘What do I want students to remember when they are 40, not just for the test on Friday?’ Once that is determined, the second step is to identify the curriculum standards that need to be assessed. Then, and only then, does technology come into the equation.”
Aspiring educators need to get schooled in various technologies and stay up-to-date with changing practices in order to stay competitive. A recent article in Ed Tech Magazine focused on how educators are keeping students engaged by stepping away from the lecture podium, and using wireless presentation tools that allow for dynamic digital presentations that students can collaborate on via their own tablets in real time. Another trend, as reported in University Business magazine, is the growing need for teachers to learn to feel comfortable lecturing via video conference, with some even having to take their courses to a fully online environment.
Mike Ramirez, MET, MAED, suggests a four-step plan for integrating technology in the classroom. According to Ramirez, teachers should find the right tools for engagement, introduce one tool at a time, learn to properly evaluate tech programs, and then use the technology to engage students.
As the technology-enhanced classroom continues to evolve, it’s more important than ever for educators to keep up with the tech times. Take a look inside an innovative program that’s giving education students the mindset to do just that, as well as hear from a current teacher whose technology-enhanced lessons won her a teacher of the year award.
Dyane Smokorowski completed a Master of Educational Technology degree at MidAmerica Nazarene University in 2007, and was named 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year. As a “techie teacher,” Smokorowski advocates for teaching students to find helpful apps and videos, creating a collaborative learning environment, and allowing students’ inquisitiveness to guide their learning through real-world application.
For example, Smokorowski was studying digital piracy, plagiarism and copyright with her 8th graders, and throughout the project, they learned how to use Skype to connect with, and interview, a wide variety of intellectual property experts including FBI cyber crime agents and the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. “Through this experience and others like it, I have successfully connected my small town Kansas students to classrooms on all seven continents and with more than 30 experts in areas ranging from the entertainment industry to the American Revolution.” In this instance, Smokorowski was able to engage her students in learning beyond their books and classroom.
As for the future of tech in the classroom? Smokorowski believes that students will evolve from using technology solely for gaming and socializing to using it for purposeful learning- anything from following and connecting with leading scientists, business people, or humanitarians on Twitter, to teaching students how to use technology to find the answers to their own questions on anything from writing a grant to using an espresso machine. With this viewpoint, teachers are using technology to empower students to teach themselves, facilitating a lifestyle of learning that goes beyond the classroom.
From Smartboards to Skyping with expert guests to having a class hashtag, there are pockets of groundbreaking learning taking place thanks to education technology and the forward-thinking teachers and institutions that are embracing it. Take a look at four innovative ways that some educators are taking learning to new digital heights:
No More Textbooks, No More Bills
Any student who’s ever walked out of their college bookstore with a bill in the hundreds will be grateful for the movement toward open textbooks. Thanks to programs like OpenStax College, College Open Textbooks Collaborative and the benefactors that are funding them, many students have been able to save on some of their course-required textbooks.
OpenStax College is a project of Rice University in which digital textbooks are being created for the nation’s most popular classes. So far, according to the website, more than 360 institutions and 53,000 students have used the program. Others have opted to pay $4.99 for the enhanced versions of the ebooks on Apple’s iBooks.
The State University of New York is beginning to dabble in open textbooks as well, with the launch of SUNY Open Textbooks’ first two digital titles. If it’s successful, it’s likely that that program will grow, and other public university systems will take notice.
Helping to drive awareness of such initiatives is The College Open Textbooks Collaborative, comprised of 29 educational organizations. Currently, it’s affiliated with more than 200 colleges, with the goal of open textbooks reaching more than 2,000 community and other two-year colleges.
Tweeting for Your GPA
Not only are many teachers and professors incorporating social media platforms into their lesson plans, in some cases, there are entire courses devoted to them. Among the first to gain notoriety is Syracuse professor Anthony Rotolo, whose course on digital communications became a trending topic, at least among those in the educational technology world.
His #RotoloClass teaches students how to use real-time social media in the classroom. He also conducted a class during the 2012 election using the same concept. Rotolo has frequently appeared in media and as a speaker at national conventions.
A Worldwide Field Trip Everyday
Streaming video and web conferencing technologies allow educators to show students things instead of just lecturing about them. It’s becoming commonplace for students to watch live coverage of cultural and newsworthy events, as well as hear from guest speakers from all over the world share their expertise on a topic the students are learning about. Museums and libraries are always working closely with institutions to offer educational programs from a distance.
At the college level, the possibilities are limitless. New York University is a big proponent of bringing students from international campuses together in a collaborative environment, for instance.
Beyond the PC
Educational programs that incorporate technology are not just about taking exams or consulting the course syllabi online. In fact, programs like MidAmerica Nazarene’s Master’s in Techology Enhanced Teaching Track are fully mobile and web-based, so that students can learn stay connected from their tablets and smart phones as well.
The MNU program uses real-time webcasts with instructors, as well as virtual collaboration tools like Adobe Connect, allowing for asynchronized and synchronized learning each week.
Similarly, all across the country at the K-12 level, more and more school districts are lifting bans on smart phones in the classroom, according to EdTech Magazine, in order to foster a “BYOD” (bring your own device) environment. Doing so allows for students to use their mobile devices to assist with in-class projects.
From teaching online courses to the “flipped” classroom, new methods of teaching that incorporate technology are becoming more mainstream every day. Today’s aspiring educators are learning how to make technology a regular part of their daily lessons, which is no stretch for today’s tech-savvy students who live and breathe on their gadgets.
Being able to bring new technologies to your classroom often depends on the administration you work with, budgets, and other red tape. But in an environment in which teachers have more leeway to use innovative teaching methods, new formats can thrive.
Even without a healthy budget on your side, technology is more accessible than ever and the majority of students come to class with their own devices, meaning that you can still bring in some technology aspects to your lesson plans regardless of financial constraints. Here are some ways you might be able to give your classroom a tech makeover:
Who says the learning has to stop when the bell rings? Many teachers and schools already have class websites set up so that homework, schedules, and notes can be posted. Take the next step by creating a class message board where students can post questions about assignments, discuss topics, or set up a virtual study group. You could also post supplemental links to YouTube videos or other multimedia content related to lessons. Another idea is to create a class blog that all of the students can contribute to.
For more art and design oriented courses, a Pinterest board can showcase student work and offer sources of creative inspiration. You could also bring guests into the classroom via Skype, Twitter, or some other social media platform. Reading case studies in a textbook is one thing, but getting to speak with someone about their real world experience as it relates to the lesson is so much better. Teachers who are engaged online can invite connections to participate in some way, whether it’s a live Skype session, a video message, or a hashtag discussion on Twitter.
The idea is that you move the lectures and note-taking exercises online so students can watch and tackle them at home, while the classroom time becomes freed up for in-depth discussion, group activities, and other creative projects based on what the students have learned. This relies on the students coming to class prepared, and requires dedicated time on the teacher’s part to be sure that students understand the material before diving in; however, many schools are finding this to be a more engaging way to learn. Flipping a classroom shouldn’t be done haphazardly though. A lot of careful planning must be done, and feedback from the students is essential to make sure that they are still learning the curriculum. In one study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Russell Mumper, Vice Dean and professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, flipped his classroom and had great results. Test scores increased by 5 percent, and 86 percent of the students said they preferred the flipped model of learning, according to EdTech Magazine.
If you’re studying history or geography, Google Maps is a great way to show students where an event took place, and what it looks like today. Instead of having students complete a traditional term paper or book report, have them work on a multimedia presentation or slideshow. Listen to podcasts together, or turn your lesson into a quiz show using a Powerpoint template, as suggested by TeachHub.com.
For centuries now, teachers have been coming up with creative and innovative ways to engage their students. Technological advances can make teaching and learning all the more exciting for those who are willing to experiment and think outside of the lecture podium, and years from now, educators may very well look to this generation of teachers as the pioneers of technology enhanced learning. By educating yourself on how to best utilize technology in your classroom, you’ll help expand your students’ learning while also showing your employer that you’re able to use technology effectively and creatively, making you a more valuable hire in a currently unstable job market.
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