There is no doubt that the Internet, and the increasingly wide pervasiveness of pocket-size supercomputers from which to access it, has changed how students learn. Classrooms can extend beyond a school’s walls, offering possibilities for learners that teachers continue to unwrap.
As Will Richardson explains in his article, "Teaching Modern Learners: New Contexts, New Literacies, New Roles,” an excerpt of which appears in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning blog, “As we move toward a more networked structure for education, an effective teacher must shift away from control and move instead toward influence in terms of shaping but not dictating the learning environment.”
In this post, we discuss the various new roles that current and future teachers must take on in the classroom, so that they can build their classrooms around the biggest benefits the Internet can confer and prepare their students to thrive in a transforming world.
According to Richardson, teachers must relinquish their former full-time classroom roles as all-knowing authorities. Instead, in many contexts, they should find themselves “curators of ideas and work that happens in the classroom space, selecting and sharing best practices or provocative questions that challenge learners.” In other words, students can be given more active leading roles in their own learning, and teachers can help highlight what is working and what is not.
Teachers will also need to be aggregators, Richardson adds, “who are adept at pulling in information from a variety of sources in order to ‘reveal the content and conversation structure of the course as it unfolds, rather than defining it in advance.’” This means that as students take the lead in certain activities and teachers curate their best practices, teachers are also carefully incorporating the best sources on a subject from around the Internet so that students don’t get too far off course.
Teachers will also need to understand that access to the Internet makes students much more autonomous as learners, especially when those students develop curiosity in a subject or have a learning problem they need to solve. Instead of seeing their central role as that of people sharing the highlights of a cannon of knowledge, educators can instead impart lessons in “higher-order” skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. When they do this, teachers become more like wise guides than imparters of a static collection of knowledge.
Visionary career counselors
Teachers also need to do more than they once did to educate themselves on the shifting future landscape of careers. Looking ahead, students have more varied options in cobbling together satisfying careers than ever before. Teachers can help prepare their students for this reality by keeping themselves actively attuned to the types of careers that are expanding in prevalence and educating themselves on the skills and strengths required by these new careers, both tech-related and otherwise.
Of course, teachers will also need to understand the new tech tools being made available so that they can help integrate into their lessons the technologies that will most benefit students. It’s incumbent on them to think through the many ways the Internet can enhance the way they teach lessons and take students outside of the classroom’s four walls. These tools can also make material accessible to autonomous learners with disabilities, to students who find it difficult to sit through long instructional periods, and more.
Shaper of future policy to help close the digital divide
Even as Internet-enabled devices mean exciting new possibilities for many of the students in this country, they also mean the expansion of the digital divide—that is, the gap between the students who have access to these technologies and those who don’t. Teachers can do their part to narrow this gap by urging elected representatives to bring top-notch technology to underserved districts—and, advocates specify, this means not only technology for testing students but also technology meant for guided play, learning, and teaching.
Teachers have always had to be skilled at adjusting to unexpected situations and finding new ways to teach. The new demands and opportunities heralded by ever-evolving technologies will draw on these skills and continue to push them to new levels.