Welcome to another Media Moment! This month, Susan Alden, an Assistant Librarian at CMCH and former high school educator, shares how her perspective on students’ use of technology in education changed after she left teaching to pursue a career as an academic librarian. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
What I Learned from the Digital Natives
I am not a digital native, or even a digital transplant. I am a newly minted librarian who, after over a decade of teaching high school chemistry, has finally come to appreciate technology and its full potential in education.
As an educator, I believe that the first rule of teaching is to know your audience. As the years passed and I got older, I found my students increasingly dependent on technology. What was ubiquitous to them was foreign to me, and changing constantly – too fast for me to keep up. While they were rapidly adopting whatever new apps and gadgets that came out, I was still actively learning these tools and how to best integrate them into the classroom.
I was continuously encouraged by administration to use technology in the classroom, despite insufficient school funded training. Over the years I went from chalk boards to white boards to smart boards to the flipped classroom. I mastered the smart board and the document camera. I wrote my agenda and lesson plans on Edline, used video clips to supplement learning, and accepted assignments by email or Dropbox. But where this was all learned behavior for me (sometimes slowly and sometimes painfully), it was acquired behavior for my students and 100% integrated into their lives – not the extra add-on as I saw it.
Despite my tech use in the classroom, all of the other “stuff” (phone apps, social media, texting) my students were using seemed unnecessary and superfluous –an endless time-suck that was both a distraction, and a seemingly artificial and shallow way to communicate. But perhaps what surprised me most was how often they would take pictures of the homework assignments I would write on the board. Why not write it down? It was then that I realized I didn’t know my audience.
The way my brain is wired, writing helps me to remember and learn content. It took many years for me to transition from writing a paper by hand and then word processing it, to creating documents directly on the computer; the typed word didn’t stick in my brain the way written words did. So I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I say that it is difficult for me to understand the mind of a digital native and how a simple snapshot could help with their learning.
It wasn’t until I left teaching to pursue a degree and career in library and information science that I actually had the time, energy and support I really needed to learn about the benefits of technology in education. It was during this time that I also stumbled across EverNote, and subsequently had an epiphany! Here was a powerful app that can index images, search the text within, and share documents. My students could have been using Evernote, or something like it, to record and organize their notes and save time in doing so. What I had seen as a waste of time, was actually a way my students may have been efficiently and effectively learning with the help of technology.
My epiphany also felt like a lost opportunity – I wish I had known about this particular area of technology so that I could have integrated it into my classroom for all of my students, even those digital natives who weren’t especially tech-savvy. It would have been a boon to develop lesson plans in ways that embrace technology and integrate it as seamlessly into education as it is integrated in other aspects of their lives. As I move forward in my career as an academic librarian, my goal now is to keep up with how and why my digital native students use technology and to teach them according to how THEY learn best, with their tribal tools.
~ Susan Alden