Tom Whitby

College/University Professor

Sayville, NY

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 6 Years ago
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Generational Divide in Education

It is my birthday today, so please forgive me for allowing my contemplation once again lead us down a well-travelled path. I have discussed this topic in posts before, but it is a subject that will not go away as long as we have younger people working next to older people. As one of those older folks, I might better state it as the “rookies” working beside the “seasoned veterans”. Of  course all of this is further confused by the introduction of the digital native theory. For these, and some other reasons, there seems to be a growing divide between those educators who embrace technology in education and those who shun it. Somehow, it has become perceived by many, as a generational gap. The younger teachers are seen as the tech ninjas, while educators over 30 are all viewed as Luddites.

I believe it was Sir Ken Robinson who talked about technology not being considered technology if you grew up with it and it always existed in your lifetime. If we grew up in the time of horse-drawn carriages, the introduction of the car would be technology. Today we don’t think of the car as technology. What they put in the car however, is another story. Not the radio of course, we don’t think of that as technology. The radio has been around longer than cars. Video displays of rear views, and traffic-monitoring Global Positioning Satellite displays, now that’s technology. So,since we have always had cars, we accept them and expect them. We are now only awed by what goes inside them.

Of course in the olden days as technology was introduced it was at first very expensive. Many people viewed the ownership of any new technology a privilege. I remember a time when my family TV was the first one on our block. I remember moving the TV outside the house in the summer so the kids could gather around it. Later more TV decisions as more technology emerged. Families came together to discuss whether or not it was time to get a color TV. Today, none of this is even remembered, unless you are contemplating your birthday. Today there are no black and white TV’s. Every house has more than one. Mobile devices access television for on-demand service. The big decision now is should we go 3D? The TV is now a right for every American to own if they want to. It is not technology anymore it’s a staple of American life. Many of the same experiences parallel the advancement of the telephone.

Now we come to what many of us think of as technology in the classroom. I was around when 4 function calculators were introduced. My first one was $99 from Sears. It made averaging at report card time a dream for an English teacher. I remember first introducing computers to the class. I remember the first computer lab. My friend had, what we called, a Car Phone. It was a huge mobile phone that came in its own carrying shoulder bag. To an old guy like me this was all technology.

What about the kids of today? Have they ever experienced a time without cellphones? Desktop computers are on the way out in their time. Laptops are being replaced by tablets and cellphones are now smartphones. Our children are growing up with these tools. They don’t see it as technology. It has always been there for them. They expect Wi-Fi. They demand the right to texting. They grew up with iTunes and have no concept of vinyl, 45’s, albums, reel to reel, 8 tracks, tape carts, and digital tape. Our technology has been relegated to being artifacts of another time. Technology is developing at a speed that will only be increased with the development of more technology.

Now we read articles that question whether or not technology is needed in schools. We have administrators banning access and limiting technology tools for learning. Educators who view tech as something we are privileged to have. It is to be controlled and doled out until the controllers have a better understanding of it. The problem is that the controllers have stopped their curiosity for learning. They are not challenged by the new. Relevance is a word and not a reality for many. At the pace that things develop today it takes work to keep up. Learning is not a passive endeavor. Too many educators teach that to kids, but fail to practice it themselves.

This is not a generational problem. It is a learning problem. I grew up in a time when much of today’s technology was not even a dream yet. (Of course flying cars still are the elusive technology.) I am an educator. I recognize that what was commonplace in my world has nothing to do with kids today. If I want to affect their lives in any way I need to do so on their terms with tools for learning that they accept and will use moving forward. I grew up with a slide rule, I don’t think they are even made any more. Why would I use it to teach a kid who has a mobile app that will take him much further than a slide rule ever could.

We need to be more visionary about how we teach. We need to blend the tried-and-true methods with what our kids will be working with in the future. Textbooks may have worked well for us, but a new wave of eBooks is coming. Encyclopedias are fine, but compared to proper use of the internet, the encyclopedia will soon be the black and white TV of research. We need educators to be able to guide kids in using these technology learning tools to continue to learn. In order to do this, those teachers need to learn as well. As Technology advances, so does everything else. We can’t have everything  moving forward and our educators standing still maintaining the status quo.

When schools ask the question; how do we get our students to be media literate and responsible digital citizens? The answer to that is obvious. Schools need to first get their teachers and administrators to be more media literate and good digital citizens. We need to model what we teach. To be better teachers we must be better learners. To be better leaders we need to be better learners. This is not generational. Old and young alike can give up on learning. We see that every day.

As the owner of an education Ning site The Educator’s PLN I have observed a really neat thing about the membership. The site has over 10,000 educators from all over the world. Each member has to be approved by me in order to be in the community. The age of each member is popped up as part of the data. The observation I made that astounds me is that anywhere from 1/3 to almost half of the members of the site are 50 years old or older. These are technology active educators still continuing to engage in learning and collaborating.

1 Comment

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Bryan_Goodwin

19 Oct 11, 10:58 AM

Great Blog, Tom. Ideally, we should hope to see veteran, expert teachers working with tech-savvy new teachers to use technology used not for its own sake, but to improve teaching and learning. In other words, both groups could learn from other---about what great teaching looks like in the classroom and then, how to use technology to support and enhance that great teaching.
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