People in the 21st century live in a technology and media-suffused environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools, and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. To be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills related to information, media and technology.
The 21st century classroom is a place not restricted to a physical space but where a school seeks to guarantee student proficiency in a core curriculum of knowledge and skills we believe will stand the test of time in a range of subject areas. More than that, it is a place that fosters the “productive habits of mind” that instill a love of learning in students, provide students with opportunities to work productively with others, think critically, solve problems both real and hypothetical, and demonstrate new learning in creative and innovative ways. It is a place where the fundamental relationship between student and teacher changes. In a world where what we know as fact often changes with new research and our collective body of knowledge grows exponentially, a teacher can no longer be the oracle of knowledge. Rather, teachers must model productive habits of mind through example, guidance, customization of instruction based on knowledge of student strengths and needs, and by the way units of study are constructed and learning assessed.
This shift in thinking about classrooms is no small task and technology is a catalyst and a tool that can facilitate this shift. Technologies used in many modern classrooms allow teachers to move beyond the traditional textbook by using primary sources, demonstrate abstract concepts in ways students can grasp, bring the microscopic world to the human eye, simulate processes that could not be otherwise demonstrated, bring people from distant places into the classroom, take students, virtually, to almost anywhere, allow students to collaborate with others in their class, in another state or another country. Technologies available to our teachers and students open the door to anytime and anywhere access to our curriculum, to each other, and should compel us to change the nature of the questions we ask students to answer. It gives teachers the opportunity to assist students, who have the technology in their hands to reach out to the world, to understand that with that unprecedented power comes responsibility.
Technologies available to schools today can serve to professionalize the teaching profession by giving teachers access to student performance data, both historical and current, allowing the teacher to work more diagnostically and prescriptively in making informed decisions regarding what material will be presented, what content and skills need particular emphasis and for whom, and how best to assess a student’s learning. In the larger world, we call this customization. In education, we call it differentiation. Regardless, of what we call it, technology helps facilitate it and the world we are preparing our students for demands it. If we fail to deliver, we will fail to remain relevant in the lives of our students.