John Norton's Are Teachers Ready for 21st Century Learning? and Karl Fisch's question in what was voted the "Most Influential Blog Post" in the 2007 EduBlog awards - "Is It Okay To Be A Technologically Illiterate Teacher?" raise some questions that are obviously very near and dear to my heart. These are questions that are being raised and discussed, in the context of India, on educatorlog.in as well.
My stand on all of this is pretty categorical, and obvious, but I see a link - and perhaps it's only a tangential one - to this issue of technological (or digital) "literacy", (as opposed to "digital fluency"), and fundamental questions that are being raised even today about the role of technology in improving education!
I have long maintained that digital "fluency" is what is needed for teachers to use technology meaningfully and effectively in the classroom. While digital "literacy" is a necessary step on the road to digital "fluency", mere"literacy" will never cut it, if the goal is to leverage new technologies meaningfully for better learning.
Here's what I mean by "digital fluency" and why questions about technology's impact in learning will continue to be raised if teachers who are trying to integrate technology in education are simply digitally "literate" (lifted from my response to the 2 aforementioned questions) -
"Just as fluency with a language takes one beyond mere literacy and helps one understand the nuances of a language, digital fluency also helps one handle the unexpected when it comes to technology – which, as it turns out, is quite often the case. This does not mean that teachers need to be trained computer professionals. It does mean, however, that teachers should move beyond viewing the computer or any other piece of hardware as a mysterious object that only the very exalted can handle. They should be able to playfully explore a piece of technology (be it a digital camera or a new piece of software) without fear or intimidation. Unless they achieve this comfort level with technology, they will constantly be faced with situations where they have to abort a technology-based lesson due to a problem that they could have handled with some fearless ‘poking around’.
Mere digital literacy will also keep teachers from moving beyond naive (or even gimmicky) uses of technology in their classrooms - (powerpoint presentations, superficial use of the Internet for topical research and such). In today’s networked world, digital fluency also means teachers harness the power of technology (the internet in particular) for communications and collaboration through the many, varied, mostly free tools of the new web (blogs, wikis, podcasts, in addition to good ole' email and e-groups).
A good teacher who is also technologically savvy will know when good old fashioned teaching techniques will work, and when a tech tool will serve the teaching and learning process better. She will always use technology as a means to an end, and not and end in itself. She will appreciate the value that pedagogies like Waldorf bring to a learning environment, but she will also be aware of tools like Scratch that aid problem-solving, creativity and collaboration and sharing.
It is not necessary to use every new tool out there, and not all the time either. A technologically "fluent" teacher will be able to strike the balance and mix it up and design the learning experiences effectively with appropriate technology tools, or without any technology tool at all, depending on the particular learning situation and need. I doubt that a teacher who is only digitally "literate" will be able to do that. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the teachers who use technology in their classrooms, probably all over the world, fall in the latter category.
I believe that that is a big reason why questions are still being raised about whether technology can truly impact learning!"