I've had the opportunity over the last few years to read a great deal about 21st century teaching and learning as well as attend professional development on 21st century learning. In a previous blog post I have written what I think it is and I have also written on how I think we can move forward. While 21st century learning is a concept that many feel we should move toward, it is the getting there that will continue to be difficult. I have some thoughts as to why. Here they are.
1) Bandwidth/Connectivity: To move learning into the 21st century, students will need to access content on the web. In addition cloud storage and access will be essential for students if we want students to be able to learn anywhere and at anytime. In a school this will mean increasing the Internet speeds/connectivity as well as providing a stable and reliable wireless network. Outside the school this will require the home to have Internet access and it may also mean mobile data plans for children. All of these things cost money.
2) Technology: I have heard people say that 21st century teaching and learning is not necessarily technology dependent. I could not disagree more. It is because of the technologies that we have now that we can even consider our shift into a new way of teaching and learning. Hardware is expensive. Software (even with apps on mobile devices) have a cost factor associated with it. Do we look at a school purchase model or a student purchase model? Do we allow a mix if technologies under a bring your own device (BYOD) model or have the technology used more homogeneous? Education is and will continue to struggle with this. Included in this the whole notion of functionality is assumed. If technology is purchased for classroom implementation but does not work properly then teachers will neither use it nor support its use. It's that simple.
3) Content: Educators who want to take a flipped classroom approach to 21st century teaching and learning need video content. Are they using free YouTube content? Brightstorm/Khan Academy? Teacher created? Will education authorities decide on what content students will access? Teachers decide? Students decide? Who decides on what content is good? Bad? Appropriate?
4) Tracking/evaluating student progress: Teachers in the 21st century classroom will still facilitate learning, and creating and/or curating content will be a part of that. But how do they track what student are using for their individual learning path? Better yet how does a teacher evaluate that progress. Being so used to testing, standardized and otherwise, how do teachers start the process of allowing portfolio work to take up more of what we call an overall grade? Are teachers of the 21st century assigning grades? Evaluating based on competencies?
5) Teacher perceptions, training, etc: One of the most difficult things that teachers have difficulty with is letting go of the idea that all knowledge and content must come from the teacher, synchronously and in real time. I recently heard a teacher say that they hated students having to learn from videos and recordings. Still others get extremely angry when students miss their class. If we are to truly open the doors to the 21st century classroom, teachers must close the door on the 20th century classroom. We have to let go of our sage on the stage role, remove ourselves from being at the front if the classroom at all times and start truly facilitating learning. For some students, asynchronous, self paced content will be enough, for others hands on and hand holding will still be needed. Neither type of 21st century student needs the "chalk and talk" teacher. This shift will be the most difficult move needed to get into the 21st century classroom.
Thinking of this reminds me of something I heard about doing professional development with teacher interns. The statement was that when working with this teacher group, a facilitator did not need to unteach bad habits. Although I did not agree with the statement as it stood, I did realize that seasoned teachers have received professional development throughout their career where one methodology is altered for another... and so on... When a teacher finds a method or style that works, they tend to stick to it and sometimes viciously defend it when change is suggested. For this reason there needs to be an intensive and ongoing professional development model implemented where teachers are not only told "why" they should transition to the 21st century classroom ( far too much pd is focused on the why) but more importantly "how" to make the transition. It will involve the presentation of working 21st century classroom models presently working as well as technical training in hardware and software applications they will need to get there. Otherwise teachers will fall back to what works for them... back in the 20th century.