Grab some popcorn and get comfortable, this is a pretty lengthy reply 😉
I recently posted an article about My role as an educator in the digital age. I received some really great questions from my classmates and faculty regarding my use of technology in the classroom and the technical skills required to put those technologies into practice.
Before I begin answering the questions below, let me start by saying that I believe the degree of technology used by teachers in the classroom should be relative to their profession and or subject(s) that they teach. I do not suggest that all teachers should be up-to-speed with all forms of educational technology. However, I would suggest that being aware, knowledgeable and skilled in the technologies that aid successful development of a students academic achievement should be utilized and put into practice. In this post, I will try to answer the following questions that were asked in reply to my original article:
How do you keep up with technology?
In my field of study and profession as a digital designer, it is my job—and a requirement—to keep current and skilled in technology that affects my industry in order to provide my students with the best learning experience. That’s what my students expect when they enter my design program. They want to be taught the latest trends and developments in web design. In order for me to deliver these expectations, I have to keep current with the latest trends in design, application software, development languages etc… In order to keep up with technology that pertains to my field of study and profession, I am involved in various meetups once a month, instruct project-based workshops and programs such as Techsdale and volunteer at WordCamp conferences to keep my skills sharpened and stay active in the design community. Being a member of a community that shares knowledge with future designers and developers helps me stay in touch with design trends and the latest developments in technology within my field of practice. I learn a great deal from my peers within these spaces and take those lessons back into my classroom to share the experiences with my students. These experiences also allow my students to gain an edge within the job market once they graduate. Employers in the design industry are always looking for talented designers who are knowledgable of the latest technologies and languages to stay competitive. By keeping up with technology, I can transfer what I learn to my students in a rich learning environment that is filled with current information, discussion and creative ideas.
Do you have enough time to develop the skills that will allow you to be an effective teacher?
When I was 17 years old my father passed away. My father was an auto mechanic for the greater part of his life and would always read about the newest innovations in the auto industry, even after his retirement. He had stacks of auto manuals, auto magazines and whatever else he could get his hands on to keep up with his passion for automobiles. After he retired, he couldn’t stand the fact of being unable to work. When I was 11 years old, he moved back to the Caribbean (Dominica) to help his nephews manage their mechanic shop. Six years passed, and I had planned to visit him in Dominica a couple weeks before his passing. A year later, my sister—who also lives in Dominica—visited me and gave me a book that my father had planned on giving me for my 18th birthday. Apparently, he gave a copy of this book to all of my brothers and sisters when they turned 18. The book my father kept for me was called ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran. The book is about a man who lived abroad for several years and was on his way home aboard a ship. During his travels, he began to discuss various topics about life and the human condition with a group of passengers on the ship. When the groups of passengers ask the man on the ship about the topic of ‘Work’ the man replied, “You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons…” (Gibran, 1926). This quote always stuck with me as my father used to emphasize the importance of work. In the digital age, this quote holds even more value to me today than it did in the past. When asked if I have enough time to develop my skills in order to be an effective designer and teacher, my reply to that question is “I make time.” If I want to be an effective designer and teacher to a generation that depends heavily on the use of technology then I must make time to develop my skills and keep pace with technology or else I will become a stranger to it and unable to keep pace with the world of design. I can’t imagine teaching students graphic design using the same techniques as I did when I was a student. I can’t imagine teaching students how to develop photos in a dark room rather than teaching them digital prepress or teaching typography using metal type instead of digital typesetting applications. I probably wouldn’t be considered as a designer in the digital age if I still used old technology. A great woman once told me “Mark, if you love to do something you should make time for it, not wish you had time for it” (My Wife, 2015).
Do you think all teachers should have technical skills?
I personally think that all teachers should have technical skills, regardless of the grade level they teach. My daughter’s first grade teacher used her iPad to help students learn how to read and practice arithmetic. My daughter’s first grade teacher also kept track of each student’s progress using the Evernote app on her iPad. When we met my daughter’s teacher for our parent-teacher meeting, the teacher showed us pictures of my daughter’s progress and feedback that she had made throughout the term. When it was time to end the meeting, I had asked if we could have a copy of the pictures she took of our daughter so that we could have them printed. The teacher replied (with confusion) that she didn’t know how to extract the photographs from Evernote. My daughter quickly interrupted and suggested to her teacher that she tap and hold her finger on the images so that she could save them to her iPad. My daughter then showed her teacher how to create a photo album for each student using her iPad so that her teacher could easily send photos to each parent via email. It was great that the teacher used technology to help her students learn in a way that was intuitive, engaging and fun for the class. The technology also allowed the instructor to keep all of her reports in one place while helping her stay organized and sustainable, as per the school’s policy. However, there were some things that my daughter’s teacher was not aware of about the technology that she was using. Granted, the teacher took it upon herself to include the use of technology in the classroom as a learning tool but what if she was better supported and learned how the technology she was using could be utilized to it’s full potential?
I see many teachers at the elementary level on both ends of the spectrum in adopting technology. How should they be supported? Should there be a certain mandatory level of technology use in the classroom?
In 2015, I would hope that technology in the classroom would be mandated. Today, there are digital classrooms being created and implemented across various school districts and provinces within Canada. Amplify uses Google’s Android-based tablets and Samsung have already started initiatives to deliver affordable mobile devices to educators and their students. With the increasing need for qualified people in tech, companies are taking it upon themselves to educate the next generation of tech leaders. I agree that the use of technology in the classroom should also include mandatory training for instructors. The post-secondary institution where I teach offers workshops and training seminars for teachers every month. The school also has a department dedicated to professional development, which offers workshops on how to utilize technology in the classroom.
I have also taught a few ‘lunch and learn’ sessions in the past. A lunch and learn is where a faculty member or guest speaker instructs faculty on how to use or implement a specific application or resource that may be useful to them during their lunch hour. I recently taught a lesson on how to create a subscription-based Google calendar for instructors who wanted to send push notifications to students about assignment due dates, important events and access to one-on-one meeting signups. Since the majority of our students have a computer or mobile device with their own personal email account, students preferred having reminders sent directly to their device rather than accessing reminders through a third party email account. Using this simple form of technology allowed my students to stay organized and punctual with their assignments throughout the semester.
When writing my earlier post on my role of an educator in the digital age, I should have defined the word ‘technology’ as it pertains to my profession and teaching. I don’t believe that teachers need to be up-to-date with all technologies, because I agree that it is an impossible task. However, within the scope of a teacher’s expertise or subject, teachers should become more knowledgeable of the available technologies that affect their subject of expertise to suit the needs of their students. I understand that my perspectives may be different from others in my profession as a teacher. I am a designer first and a teacher second. I became a teacher because I wanted to share my knowledge with others in hopes that they would become as passionate about design as I am. My passion for design allows me to be passionate about teaching design. My personal belief is that students come to me as a teacher of design because they consider me to be an expert in the field that I teach. Therefore, they expect me to answer any questions based on design and the technology that compliments design. Sure, I help guide my students to find their own understanding of what good design is and how to achieve their own academic goals. However, to do so I must also help them become better designers by staying current with the technology and information that they need to achieve their academic and professional goals. In addition, I still see value in teaching the traditional aspects of design that will help them build a solid foundation for their career. Thus, making them better prepared for any future advancements that they may experience.