8 Skills for Future-Proofed Teachers
Determining what kind of technology teachers should be familiar with matters less than ensuring they have skills to adapt to whatever gadgets come along.
At the University of Montana — Western, we train teachers. So, a new model classroom is not a bad thing, is it? It seems a delightful idea akin to buying a beach-front condo. Freshly painted walls, new floor coverings, strategically placed electrical and data outlets, funky chairs, mobile white boards and instructional aids create a vibrant learning environment. Yet, one glaring crystal ball question remains, "What technology should be included?"
In the late '80s, I was working at Oregon State University on an interactive VHS tape project. It was an instructional marvel that flopped faster than a defeated Sumo wrestler. Not really surprising; computer-based innovations have a tendency to be transient. Here today and, well, still hanging around tomorrow but with new funding definitely out the door.
Our model classroom will have scads of gadgets. The debate currently raging is choosing between interactive whiteboards or interactive flat screen TVs. Both offer an enhanced learning experience. The TVs are infiltrating the market quickly but many schools have already committed to the digitized whiteboards. For our model classroom, the caveat is, we train future teachers — what will they need?
But the decision about which gadgets those soon-to-be teachers need to be familiar with is less important than the skills they'll need to help their students thrive. The gadgets will, after all, be ever changing. Below are some of those skills any future teacher will need, whether their classroom is equipped with a whiteboard or a TV.
The number one technology skill any teacher — veteran or rookie —should learn is adaptability. We all know computer-based devices change overnight. Recognizing how new innovations can integrate into a class of 25-30 students is truly a miraculous skill. Seeing the potential, recognizing the pitfalls and promoting learning is just a part of the job. Teaching with technology is a constant learning curve. There's no place for complacency in today's schools.
Get Your Hands Dirty
For my money, future teachers need to be willing to jump in and sleuth away. Look, listen and apply some basic trouble-shooting techniques when things go south. And, with technology, disaster is only as certain as your cocksure attitude that everything will work. "No Fear" should be the mantra of teachers who face pesky equipment. Heck, with the vast resources of the World Wide Web, a solution is often not far away. If, for example, a projector and laptop aren't playing well together, Google it.
Cables, connections, and protocol — oh my! Yes indeed, interfacing devices changes almost as fast as a toddler's diaper. Thunder, lightning, SVGA, HDMI, composite are a few of the standards teachers of the future will need to sample. It's more important to realize the tenuous relationship of how things connect and, when they don't, where to find solutions.
I worked a few years for a software company which drove home one concept: compatibility. We had six products, each with a six-month re-release cycle which included constant beta testing to address new hardware congruity. Companies, like teachers, constantly face upward and downward compatibility issues. Teachers face a vicious catch-up race with morphing technology. Ever heard a question like, "Hey, that worked on version 12.4, why doesn't it run on 14.3?"
Let Alchemy Rule
New teachers don't have to be "born again" but they should be willing to convert. "I'm building a presentation for an interactive whiteboard and want to embed a video file but the application doesn't like .mov file type. How do I fix that?" Yep, conversion. Images, video, audio and screen recordings all have unique file formats. What file types does your application accept? Knowledgeable navigation in the conversion realm can save time and frustration.
Deal with Clogged Plumbing
You don't need to build a network to understand how they work. The gory details of IEE 802.11 wireless standards or wireless access point deployment isn't important. Right? Right! Just as understanding the functional parts in your own home can help ease the stress when you're faced with repairs, so can knowledge of computer-based infrastructures when devices don't work. "I plugged my laptop into the wall jack, why can't I get to my Prezi presentation?" Get the plunger and let's find out.
Don't Expect a Bed of Roses
The "bad" face of technology stares at teachers daily — most notably, cyberbullying. Future teachers have to possess the strategies to combat this horrible plague on children. Proactive techniques are out there and really can get through to students. In addition, social media offers a real-time threat to teacher privacy. Take the civil action case, Requa v. Kent School District, et al., where a student created an unflattering stealth video of one of his teachers, put it to music, and posted it on Youtube titled "Mongzilla." Digital citizenship truly starts in the schools.
Go High Tech but Give High Touch
Back in 1982, John Naisbitts's book, "Megatrends" became a New York Times bestseller. The book looked at 10 trends facing society. One was the balance between "high tech and high touch." I believe this is the most important concept to cover with prospective teachers and technology. Classroom, and more importantly, online teachers must provide a personal "high touch" that engages students — especially those without motivation or direction.
Novice teachers have tons to deal with those first few years. Hopefully worrying about technology isn't one of them. Who knows for certain what the future will hold in five years? Even our model classroom will no doubt need some retrofitting by then. The unknown is why the fundamental skills that prospective teachers acquire during their training will enable them to successfully integrate technology, making the learning process robust and successful.
Joe Barnhart is a faculty member in the College of Information Technology at Western Governors University. He can be reached at [email protected].