Occidental College is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the field of innovative instructional technology in K-12 schools. Building on its legacy of training educational leaders, and utilizing the existing infrastructure and talents of the Center for Digital Learning and Research and the Center for Community Based Learning, as a small liberal arts college with its focus on teaching and learning, Occidental is the ideal venue for leading the way to new visions for tomorrow‘s schools. The time is right. The confluence of the introduction of Common Core Standards with an emphasis on collaborative, project based learning, the need to re-imagine the Education Department and the credential program, and the ability to build on the work already being done through the efforts of the Center for Digital Learning and Research make this the perfect opportunity to put Occidental in a position of leadership and to turn out teachers who will truly be agents of change. A re-aligned Education Department with a focus on a technologically rich teacher preparation program would be an ideal leader in this work.
Instructional technology is an exciting focal point of a re-constituted teacher credential program. This field has great untapped potential. It is not a matter of teaching the same way, using new tools, but teaching a whole new way using the most effective resources available. “Despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is still very rare in teacher education. (Horizon Report, p.9) . While currently technology training is primarily taking place in professional development courses, there is a lack of serious attention to the way a changing technological landscape will alter the way students learn.. A liberal arts college like Occidental has the quality of students and the depth and breadth of resources to develop a program that could revolutionize the way teachers are prepared to deal with a changing schools in an increasing technological and globalized world.
Technology is currently an under-utilized tool in the field of education, particularly in the area of differentiation of instruction (providing instruction so all students can learn regardless of ability). Using innovative technological programs as an integrated part of the curriculum would allow Occidental to become a leader in 21st century education. “Opportunities brought about by recent development of technology have been almost completely missed in education…Technology holds amazing potential to support the new paradigm of education in a number of ways. First, as a tool for creation, digital technology makes it much easier and less expensive to create media products, books, arts, and all sorts of other products and services. Second, as a tool of communication, technology enlarges the campus to make it possible for students to learn with experts and resources from outside the school. Third, as a platform for marketing, technology makes it possible for students to reach a global audience for their products. Finally, as a tool for collaboration, technology enables students to work with partners from around the world anytime from anywhere.“ (Zhao, World Class Learners, p.253) The integration of good pedagogical techniques, excellent assessment tools and development of collaborative, project-based learning is an approach that is both necessary and timely. With an emphasis on teaching students how to identify desired outcomes and select the appropriate tools to achieve those, Occidental would develop teachers that will be able to provide an outstanding education using a variety of tools and techniques. “The same task can be performed with a range of different technologies, and the same technology can be deployed toward a variety of different ends. Some tasks may be easier with some technologies than with others, and thus the introduction of a new technology may inspire certain uses… It matters what tools are available to a culture, but it matters more what that culture chooses to do with those tools.” (Jenkins p. 8)
While uses of technology in education have become more prevalent over the last 30 years, in the majority of schools they have merely replaced typing with word processing and posters with power point presentations. Add to that the use of drill and practice programs and that often is the sum total of technology use in the classrooms. “Our schools have been teaching the skills and knowledge needed for an industrial economy, preparing our children to work only in the physical world. The challenge our schools must face is to begin teaching the skills and knowledge needed for the virtual economy.” (Zhao, Catching Up, loc 2090) “The problem we are encountering today as educators is that we’re living through a radical paradigm shift in how people engage with and circulate knowledge, but our models for teaching and learning, and our institutional accountabilities haven’t kept up with the world around us.” (Ito, March 2012)
The point is not to simply teach a class or two in technology, using the current platforms or tools. “(T)o reduce the new media literacies to technical skills would be a mistake on the order of confusing penmanship with composition. Because the technologies are undergoing such rapid change, it is probably impossible to codify which technologies or techniques students must know.”
(Jenkins, p. 20). (D)igital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.” (Horizon Report, p. 9) . The emphasis must be on determining outcomes and discovering the most effective tools to produce the desired results.
There are some individual classes that are fully integrating technology into instruction and doing creative things with it, but it is far from wide-spread. A focus on using technology as a tool for good, innovative instruction is a unique niche that Oxy can fill. Students today do not need the basic instruction on how to use the technology, since they have grown up with it and simply need to fine-tune their familiarity with new capabilities and assess the effectiveness of the available tools. They do need to learn to assess and incorporate the uses of technology into their pedagogical system to enhance learning, encourage creativity, tackle real-world problems, using data from assessment to form instruction and customize instruction. “For that reason, we do not want to see media literacy treated as an add-on subject. Rather, we should view its introduction as a paradigm shift, one that, like multiculturalism or globalization, reshapes how we teach every existing subject. Media change is affecting every aspect of our contemporary experience, and as a consequence, every school discipline needs to take responsibility for helping students to master the skills and knowledge they need to function in a hypermediated environment.” (Jenkins, p. 57)
“Most of those of us who grew up and went to school in the last half-century attended teacher-centered classrooms. Students of the twenty-first century will, increasingly, be attending learner-centered classrooms…learners today have a vast network of information sources at their disposal: from the library to the Internet, from television to computers, and that we, as teachers, are but one source of information (however vital). We think the learner is central, and we teachers can best serve that center by coaching learners in their acquisition of skills and knowledge needed to access the many informational resources available.” (Fried, p. 126)
Education is at a crossroads. Implementation of Common Core Standards will be taking place over the next few years. With its emphasis of collaborative, project-based learning, this is the perfect time to re-envision what schools should look like and how learning should take place. Instructional technology provides a vehicle for engaging students, differentiating instruction and giving teachers tools for developing creative new programs and for making formative assessments. “The most obvious educational response to the nonlearning of students, one would think, is to try a different instructional approach…Thus we are forced to ask ourselves how eager we are, both inside and outside of schools, to foster critical thinking and creative nonconformity.” (Goodlad, p. 24)
Incorporating technology as an integral part of all aspects of instruction is vital to turning out 21st century teachers. A two-year masters of instructional technology is one avenue to explore if Oxy chooses to continue offering a masters program. Other possibilities include offering professional development programs for schools and educators in the community to allow current practitioners a chance to refresh their professional skills and develop new insight into technological tools that are increasingly available to them. The development of a “certification” program for educators would be less cumbersome than a master’s program, but would undoubtedly draw great interest from the educational community. Summer institutes, such as those currently being held for Occidental faculty, would be an outstanding opportunity for teachers in the field looking to hone their technological skills and refresh their approach to teaching. This would also allow for an opportunity to have experts in the field of education model optimal uses of technology that could help them integrate outstanding teaching practices into the more global college setting.
Development of a model digital school would be an exciting new approach for Occidental. Such a program would allow the College to showcase innovative teaching techniques using a variety of technological resources. This could be done in conjunction with local partnership schools, or by development of the College’s own program. The Community Literacy Center or the Child Development Center would be good starting points for demonstrating new and innovative techniques, and giving an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of such approaches.