Teaching Like It’s 1980

Rethinking the way Schools (dis)Respect Digital Natives

Most classrooms still look like this
2010 photo of a 4th-grade room.

Most of today’s educators were born too soon. We are not digital natives. Moreover, developments that you might call “market forces” in the last several decades actually have held most teachers back from fully participating in the digital revolution.

As a result, we really don’t “get it.”

All too many of us are still teaching as if it’s 1980 . . . except with a computer cart in the corner, to use sometimes.  Oh, sure, some of us have “smart boards” where our blackboards used to be, and some of us are required to keep in touch with parents via email.

But most educators just fundamentally see digital media (by which they mean “computers”) as a sort of add-on.

  • We still think of textbooks as physical, printed-and-bound objects.
  • We make our students turn off or put away their cell phones when they come to class.
  • We restrict access to the Internet, except for narrowly-defined assignment objectives.
  • We often absolutely ban Facebook, Twitter, and other social media from our classrooms.
  • We demand undivided attention when we are speaking to the class.
  • We believe that, to be readily available, facts must be memorized.
  • We call it “cheating” when our students look up answers.
  • When we make websites, they are almost invariably really lame.
I am pretty sure we have managed to get all of these things (and more) exactly backwards.
That’s because it isn’t 1980 anymore.  I actually remember teaching in 1980, and a whole lot of my colleagues do, too. For us and for our students, that is unfortunately a problem. Today’s students have grown up using technology that never even existed when we were growing up. This has changed the way they see and interact with the world. It also has fundamentally altered the kind of world their future holds. A “1980” education is simply not going to cut it, for these kids, even if we do pull out the computer cart from time to time.
In upcoming posts, I intend to explore each of the points I’ve listed above, and look at the reasons why we should revise our practices regarding every single one.
IMAGE CREDITS: 
Many thanks to “Gourmet Spud” for the fourth-grade classroom photo from the “Parent-Teacher Night” post on the Food Court Lunch blog. 
Enthusiastic appreciation also is due to the Tulsa Public Schools Department of Instructional Technology for the Pirillo & Fitz cartoon.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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