Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Challenge/Exhilaration of Teaching Digital Natives

Let's face it.  Kids these days are raised on technology.  Expose them to a new program, game, or application and they run with it.  Take the same new technology to a group of adults and there is often fear, trepidation, and sometimes revolt.  I consider myself strongly average when it comes to learning and dealing with new technology, yet I've seen how valuable some of the technology tools are in the classroom.  So what's a teacher to do?  Do I devote countless hours learning a new technology so I can be an expert?  How will I find time to do that in my busy day?

That's me "faking" my way through technology.

The issue was forced on me a number of years ago when I was assigned to teach a 6th grade computer class.  My initial reaction was one of fear (or to be more honest more like horror).  How in the world was I going to teach a technology class when I myself struggled, at times, with technology?  As part of an assignment during the first few weeks of school, students were asked to create an autobiographical PowerPoint presentation in an attempt for students to learn how to use the technology and for us to get to know them better.  In the course of their work a student asked me how to insert some audio into the presentation.  I trembled with the fear of being discovered as an imposter, as I wasn't very familiar with the program at the time and didn't know what to do.

What I didn't realize, however, was that my room was full of "digital natives," and one of those heroes came to my rescue.  "Let's try this," said one student to the other.  "Or you can try this," said another.  "I think you can do it like this."  Their willingness to just get in there, roll up their sleeves, and assist each other was amazing.  At that point I realized that my approach to teaching technology was all wrong.  One does not have to be an expert with technology to use technology or even teach technology.  Working with technology is all about attitude.  You have to be open-minded and willing to put yourself out there.  You can't always be the expert and have to be willing to ask for help.  I see it as the perfect way to model lifelong learning for students and to allow students to see how to handle a situation when you don't know how to do something.  It empowers students to know that they can sometimes figure things out on their own and that even the "technology teacher" doesn't know everything.

From that point forward, I was much more welcoming of technology in my classroom.  My digital natives can figure things out ten times faster than I can.  All I have to do is to be generally familiar with what I am doing, and the students will help me and each other figure things out.  While being in that unfamiliar territory can be scary for many teachers, it's often a place where much learning by trial and error occurs.  And that's a place I like to be.

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