The dialogue on “digital divides” is extensive with regards to student learning and accessibility. But what about digital divides for learning and accessibility among teachers?
No Teacher Left Behind?
When I graduated from college in 2009, I had never heard of concepts like PLN’s, teachers using Twitter professionally, or encouraging elementary students to create digital portfolios with blogs. When I began teaching at a fairly new school filled with other recently graduated teachers, our video projectors were as high-tech as it got–though most classrooms still had overhead projectors, too. And when I finally began to explore 21st century educational technology years later (social media in particular), I discovered a rather counterintuitive pattern: despite being raised with the internet, younger teachers as a whole are not the fluent edtech masters one might expect.
Putting the Pieces Together
The more I started to catch up on edtech, the more aware I became of this pattern. For example, as the Flipped Learning Network has gathered statistics on flipped classrooms, it has shared findings using various Infographics. The one below states that 85% of teachers flipping their classrooms have at least 7 years of experience; another shows that for 46% of teachers polled, that number jumps up to 16 years!
Additionally, a 2012 report released by the National Association of State Boards of Education points out:
“…the majority of Gen Y teachers grew up using the Internet and technology. Given this simple fact, it would seem to be only a matter of time before a cohort of tech-savvy, actively tweeting, social media-integrating teachers take over our schools. The reality, however, is more complicated…being born at this time did not necessarily mean being born into a world of social media…nor did it necessarily mean being educated in a technology-rich learning environment.”
With regards to teacher education, it further states:
“Surprisingly, given that the vast majority of those entering the profession are digital natives, new teachers are no more likely to integrate technology into their practice than their veteran peers. The research indicates that it is not a lack of access, but primarily lack of knowledge and practice integrating the technology into their instructional pedagogy.”
To an extent, the shortcomings of collegiate teacher prep makes sense. As a recent Huffington Post article points out, college in 2005 was dramatically different from today (ie, neither MacBook Pros nor Twitter existed yet, and Facebook was still limited to college freshmen). Even the professors were unfamiliar with rapidly evolving educational technology tools and practices.
Meanwhile, teachers whose careers were already established when such tools debuted became the prime candidates for becoming the digital literates in the field. Thus, I would contend that older teachers are even more likely than younger ones to integrate technology in their teaching practices and professional development.
Closing the Gap
So how do we close the gap of teachers who do and don’t effectively integrate technology? The above-mentioned NASBE report cites policy and institution-based solutions such as improving technology instruction at the university level, as well as implementing quality, ongoing professional development and peer mentoring. While these are sure to help address the issue, we suggest it can also be remedied when teachers take individual action. With the wealth of free professional development available online (ie, communities of teachers on Twitter that share, discuss, and support), teachers can be quickly brought up to speed on the latest ideas. Our post on ways to become a 21st century teacher has specific ideas for such action. Let us endeavor to close any digital divide that arises to strengthen our global community of teachers and learners!
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