Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prensky Presentations

As part of my undergraduate program at Wartburg I am required to complete a major undergraduate research paper / thesis of sorts. In May I will defend this thesis in front of a group of faculty at Wartburg and will hopefully publish this paper in the following year. That being said, it has been a large undertaking for the past four years of my life in which I have dedicated a large amount of time, energy, and finally hard work into a document that is still to be finished. The whole paper is about technology in K-12 education and how I, along with others, have recognized a shift in the past few years. Now the education field stands at a crossroads of indecision. Do we embrace the new technology and change how we teach our students or do we continue to teach in the “old ways.” I propose and strongly suggest that we change and suggest some practical ways to begin to engage students in K-12 classrooms today.

That being said, when I started the research process for this project a while ago one name continued to come up time and time again. That was the name of futurist, educator, speaker, writer, and consultant Marc Prensky. As I read his latest articles and stayed up on his work throughout the past few years I determined that he was leading the way in educational technology. In my work with faculty at Wartburg, as the Senior Educational Technology Assistant, I knew that Prensky’s work was one that the faculty needed to read, digest, and apply. So I got this idea in my head that Prensky should come to Wartburg and speak to the faculty, hold a panel discussion with the students, and then also work with area educators to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum. It was an idea that I had been throwing around in my head for a year before the ocean parted and an opportunity came up at Wartburg for him to speak. However, the stars did not align and it was not possible for him to come at that point. So I kept trying and spoke to the Dean of Faculty about the opportunity for him to come to campus and speak. She was hesitant at first, but I think I made my case pretty strong about Prensky asking questions and really stimulating discussion about technology being integrated into the curriculum. So this time it worked out and Prensky was able to come to campus and speak and what was even better was that Wartburg flew me back, from Colorado, to assist with the whole two-day event.

I helped to pick him up from the hotel, introduce him to various groups that he met while he was on campus, and even had the privilege of introducing him and a group of my peers in a panel discussion on one morning. I was by his side at the President’s table for lunches and dinners and assisted him with smaller necessities, like Internet. Finally, I walked him out to his car as he headed back to the airport. All in all it was an awesome trip, not only for me, but I truly think for him also.

What Prensky did while he was on campus was to ask the questions to the campus. How are we engaging our students in the classroom? How are we allowing students to be a part of the process in planning the classes, the technology, and the campus as a whole? How are we crossing the Digital Divide between Digital Immigrant, those that were born before digital technology and the Digital Natives, those that were born with digital technology at their finger tips? How are we teaching in a new constructivist manner that really engages the students in their learning? Prensky asked a lot of questions, but then he also gave a lot of answers too. They were answers that I had heard before, because I have read all of his material, but ones that took on a new meaning in my life.

The context when learning a new skill or listening to a discussion for the third or fourth time always makes it so that learning can exist continually. So as a student teacher in a classroom of laptops and Digital Natives, I really took what he was saying to heart and started to apply it into my classroom right away. Others, especially the faculty, were a little hesitant as to what Prensky was saying and suggesting for them to do.

One important idea that I took away was that college professors do not need to have any sort of teaching degree to actually teach in college. They need to have no teaching classes, no experience, no anything but a Masters degree and / or a PhD depending on where you are at. That’s it. So there is no surprise that students complain even more, or at least I think so, about the quality of teaching in a college setting than they do about the teaching in a high school setting. I mean we talk about the Digital Divide like there is a large problem in K-12 education, and there is, but I think an even larger and untapped divide exists within the college and university setting. These professors are older, more experienced, and generally have little to no experience actually teaching (except maybe for the small percentage that have done some form of TA or other experience). That raises the question of, so who is teaching them how to be teachers? Who is teaching them to be the people that inspire our children on to success now that they have finished high school? Who is teaching them the newest and greatest technology so that it can be integrated into their curriculums? Who is challenging them to become better year by year and class by class? I know the structure of the college or university is different, but it is one that like the K-12 profession is evolving. Like I mentioned in a previous post, as a high school educator right now I am worried for the future. Worried that my students who are engaged in the classroom, who are using technology in the classroom, and who are exciting about learning because it is relevant and rigorous and it is about relationships will not be served, satisfied, or even close to happy with the education that they will receive in a college or university setting. So then, how do we change this? I think the first part is exactly what Prensky did, ask the question. The second, third and fourth steps still need to be figured out. If I were to suggest a few ideas, it would be conversation with students, support from administration, and a change in paradigm of teaching to a more constructivist approach.

Someone or a group of people need to challenge these universities and colleges to change, but who that individual is has yet to be determined. Prensky did that for Wartburg, but who else carries on his mission, vision, and ideas into the future has yet to be determined.

Overall, my trip was really successful. I was able to see my roommate, my friends, have about fifteen other meetings on top of the whole Prensky stuff and still manage to get back in time to teach on Friday morning. It was a whirlwind trip, but one that I that was very successful. Having Prensky on campus was really good for Wartburg and it was amazing to see the lives that he impacted while he was there. Not only the ones that were present at his keynote and other sessions, but the lives of the students that will get changed as a result of his comments during those two days. What is even crazier to think about is that it all started with one student, a love for technology, and a strong desire to make a difference in the world around him through an influential speaker. What is even crazier to believe is that individual is me. However, I don’t want the credit or the fame, but I do want to start to see a change happen in the world of education - A change that will benefit the students of today and most of all the students of tomorrow.