"If your target audience isn't listening to you, it's not their fault, it's yours."
-- Seth Godin
Articles like this one -- Colleges worry about always-plugged-in students -- often scapegoat technology as the reason 21st century students tune out when it comes to learning. Unfortunately, it's not unusual to hear complaints of outdated educators and administrators who have or are considering unplugging students' access to the Internet or banning technology altogether so students will focus. These learning institutions are moving in the wrong direction!
When we blame or ban the technology, we solve our issue temporarily, but we are ignoring the root of the problem.
When it comes to learning, many educators know banning is the easy way out, but there are a number of reasons why students are not paying attention. Rather than taking away student rights and the freedom to learn using the tools they want, we must address the root of the issue causing the problem. If you're a student or you have a child in a school that is trying to pull the plug on 21st century learning, suggest they consider some of these ideas.
Ideas for Educators Who Want 21st Century Students to Tune In
1) Problem: Outdated classroom management
Solution: While there are teachers who may have been a master of classroom management in the days before the Internet, the environment has changed. Have classroom management techniques been updated? Do students know when they should have their laptop lids at 90 degrees? Is there at least some allocation of free time where students can catch up on their need for personal and/or social issues? Are students sitting in different configurations, sometimes with their technology, other times circled up for conversation or in breakout groups that report back and make the most sense for learning goals and objectives? Are there clear deliverables and active learning options that help focus students, keep them accountable and make clear how learning goals can be met? If these ideas are incorporated into classroom management, students are more likely to tune in to learning.
2) Problem: Students are not engaged
Solution: Educators who stand at the front of the room lecturing often are not engaging students. Even if the topic is interesting, many students can't stand to idly sit and listen to someone else for a long time. It is boring and today's students know it doesn't need to be. Since students want a piece of the action and teachers want students to tune in, they can provide accountable interactivity. Perhaps have students Tweet relevant thoughts, ideas and links using a provided hashtag. At the end of the area of study, the class will have a fantastic subject-specific newspaper to read by using something such as Paper.li. Another option is creating a method for students to share ideas and thoughts using a backchannel.
While traditional instructors may believe students should sit up and listen, the fact is that this bores many 21st century students to tears. These students like interactivity, so give them a job to do and they'll pay attention.
3) Problem: Teachers are complaining about technology, but they are not incorporating it into instruction
Solution: Teachers can stop complaining that students are on Facebook and not paying attention and start incorporating tools like this into instruction. People are social. Young people are especially social. They like to discuss and make meaning. Teachers can catch the excitement and provide opportunities for this to happen. Teachers can make a Facebook page and use that as a hub for students to connect and share during instruction. If Facebook is blocked, use an alternative like Schoology or Grouply. The teacher can set up discussion boards or Wall Wishers to share ideas.
To update practices and meet the needs of 21st century students, teachers must acknowledge that students aren't content sitting and listening to their teachers blathering on. They demand teachers who are more interesting, and those who are will be rewarded by more interested students.
4) Problem: Teachers talk too much
Solution: We all know what teaching looks like. It hasn't changed much since the start of institutionalized teaching in the industrial age. The teacher assumes full control and stands at the front of the helm speaking. It's what we see whenever there is television or press coverage of the classroom and it's what we see if we have the opportunity to look into many classrooms.
Let's face it. Sitting in class listening to a lecture is just plain boring for many students. Why do they have to come to school to listen to their teacher talk? It's no wonder students aren't paying attention. The alternative is, teachers can flip their classroom and tape lectures for students to listen to on their own time. Then they can spend class time doing stuff... real stuff that students are interested in and teachers can help them with. Parents will like this idea, too, because instead of needing to hire tutors, class time can be used for the teacher to help students having difficulty with their work rather than speaking at students. Salman Khan explains this beautifully in his TED Talk on the subject.
5) Problem: Teachers think they own the learning but they don't!
Solution: Teachers don't own the learning. Their students do. If students are not interested in what their teacher has to say, then the teacher needs to figure out how to say it in a way that they will be interested in, or ask students to do that for themselves. If students simply aren't interested, then perhaps they can be given the freedom during class to do what they are interested in. Multimillionaire Aaron Iba's favorite teacher was the one who let him do just that. He got to sit in the back of the room working on his computer. He ended up making millions from Google doing just that.
Another option is to give up some control and be part of a growing and successful trend in letting students own and design their learning. Educators are finding that giving students ownership and responsibility for their learning pays off quite well.
6) Problem: Technology is just too distracting for some students.
Solution: It's not unusual to hear teachers pass off the blame to students, saying it is just too distracting for some students. The problem is, a teacher's job is to help prepare students to be successful in their world, not in their teacher's past. A teacher is not helping a student become successful by creating an artificial environment in school. Instead, teachers can help empower students to take ownership of their learning and self-monitor. Many students are very good at this. They may just have a browser closed at certain times, turn off chat, turn off sound or use an app like "self-control," which blocks certain websites for specified periods of time.
Schools should not encourage dependency learning and dependency attention. It is incumbent upon educators to empower students to be able to self-monitor and discover the optimal conditions to learn and create. Imposing restrictions on students is certainly more convenient for educators, but it is NOT what is best for students.
For one more bonus idea and links to all the resources mentioned here, visit The Innovative Educator blog post: 7 Solutions for Educators Who Want 21st Century Students to Tune In.
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