Reconceptualizing the role of teachers in the digital era
DESPITE THE ESCALATING USE OF DIGITIZED TECHNOLOGIES IN MODERN SCHOOL SETTINGS, TEACHERS SHOULD NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THEIR AGENCY IN ASSISTING STUDENTS TO PURSUE EDUCATIONAL GOALS.
Digital technology is invading higher education landscapes, dramatically reshaping how teaching and learning in classrooms need to be conducted. Also, it challenges and confronts the very traditional perspectives of pedagogy. No less important, the technological invasion ineluctably calls for efforts to define competencies required to effectively utilize digital devices.
Clearly, advancements in technology and communication complicate the traditional pedagogical assumptions previously thought to fit the learning goals and teaching interactions in classroom.
At the core of this issue is that schools must be prepared to face the emergence of the digital era in pedagogy, for it is hardly possible today to deny the pervasive use of technology in classrooms. This preparedness not only takes the form of supplying a wealth of high-tech devices in schools, but also of enhancing the professionalism of teachers.
With the ubiquity of digital devices in today’s schools, clinging to conventional arts of teaching like lecturing and group discussion may no longer suffice, as much of what happens in classrooms is often mediated by technological resources.
For example, teaching presentations can now be done with the aid of in-focus projectors; additional information in Power Point presentations can be displayed in a split second; text constructions can be created by combining voice, images, music, sound and film; and literacy learning can be done by merging linguistics texts with other semiotic resources such as symbols, codes, images and emoticons.
With the pervasiveness of technological resources as mediational devices, classroom teachers cannot assume that they play a subservient role to these digital devices in helping students to reach their learning goals.
On the contrary, they ought to continuously encourage students to develop a critical awareness in dealing with digital devices. Gerda K. Wanei, an education counselor, says that given the educative and destructive sides of technology, teachers’ control over students’ use of digital devices in classrooms is vital.
She adds that using these devices to shape students’ characters is far more important than just broadening students‘ knowledge about technology, emphasizing that teachers not only play a role of facilitator, but must also feel obliged to shape individual students’ characters.
This implies the need for the reconceptualization of a teacher’s role in the context of the digital era. Apparently, digital technologies dramatically alter the way we socialize with each other, compelling us to mull effective strategies so as to manage this socialization better.
Thus, the traditional teacher-led classroom seems no longer tenable in networked learning vicinities where students have the ability to use technologies developed as a result of their constant engagement with technology outside of school.
In such a technology-wired learning context, the best way to exercise control over students is not to impose top-down instruction on the students, which might not be effective at all. This is because in many cases students may surprisingly exhibit knowledge that is equal to or even savvier than their teachers.
On the face of it, a teacher - participant- observer role seems to offer great benefits for assisting students in developing their critical awareness of cyberspace. In this role, teachers are not supposed to totally abandon the wisdom of traditional methods they previously used, and to blindly adopt strategies required of the contemporary digital pedagogical approach.
What they do, instead, is to re-examine and then re-orientate their previous perspectives in light of the current ones, striking a balance of vantage points that will serve students better and give them the right perspective.
Today’s students are part of a technologically-savvy generation because they have been brought up surrounded by technological devices. This, however, doesn’t mean that they are able to critically reflect on every single thing they spot and watch in cyberspace.
Taking a teacher-participant-observer role enables a teacher to reflect and engage critically with students in assessing, for example, the biases of information provided by web pages, as well as the value, hidden meanings and politics of it.
More importantly, with the help of teachers, students can be made aware that digital devices by no means provide a panacea to every pedagogical problem they face. They serve only as a means, not an end in itself. They function only as an object to be exploited for the best interests of teachers and students and of educational aims in general, rather than a model to be uncritically adhered to.
In essence, adopting a critical attitude toward the use of technology is the key to understanding the real meaning of technology and to incorporating it in teaching and learning purposes. And, critical attitudes nurtured in school will always be retained when students are faced with an amount of misinformation on the web outside of school.(