How Does Technology Prepare Students for the Future?
Here’s a question I often ask educators: “How old will your students be 50 years from now in the year 2072?” For PreK–12 teachers and administrators, the answer is between 53 and 68 years of age, periods of high productivity for many adults. Then I ask this question: “Is your teaching just preparing your students for 2022, or is it also preparing them for 2072?” In other words, are you only preparing your students for this year’s accountability systems—or are you also preparing them to adjust and thrive through a long life of unprecedented change in the latter half of this century?
To prepare our students for the future, we need to first adjust our mindset. We need to prepare our students for the year 2072, not just for 2022.
We all know about Gen Z, our tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, connected students who started passing through our classrooms two decades ago, but many educators haven’t realized we have a new generation of students in our Pre-K through 5th grade classrooms: Gen Alpha, who are even more tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, and connected than their Gen Z siblings. Gen Z will be living into the 2080s and 2090s, and Gen Alpha will be the first generation to see 2100 in large numbers. This means what we teach today will impact our students for many decades into the future, a future more unpredictable than any time in history.
“We need to prepare our students for the year 2072, not just for 2022.”
By 2072 our most recent high school graduates, the class of 2022, will have navigated a half century of constant, life-altering changes. Advanced forms of technology will play dominant roles in their lives. In Leading Schools in Disruptive Times, a book I co-authored with Dwight L. Carter, we wrote their days may be filled with 3-D printers, virtual reality rooms, and flying cars—while they grapple with the effects of climate change, increasingly powerful artificial intelligence (AI), and new types of problems we have not yet imagined. Education in 2072 will be individualized and delivered in new modes, much of them digitally based, that fit the unique requirements of the students and families, not just the school systems (if school systems still exist). Why do we need to know this now?
Because this transition has already begun. We are a part of it.
Think about the transitional role technology is playing in education today. The pandemic shutdowns in the spring of 2020 put more devices in the hands of students, forced teachers to deepen their digital skills, and dramatically increased technology usage in classrooms when in-person learning resumed. Individualized programs (like HMH’s successful Into Reading, Waggle, and Read 180) allow students to log into math and ELA platforms that track their progress and submit their data to teachers. New types of charter schools, many of them online, are already offering alternatives to traditional schooling. Millennial and Gen Z parents, as noted in my most recent book 5-Gen Leadership, are increasingly fed up with the stress and labeling of state testing and are advocating for more individualized learning, much of which can be delivered through a combination of in-person and online schooling. These trends won’t stop. On the contrary, they will accelerate as AI strengthens and provides more choices for students, family members, and educators in how, when, and where learning takes place.
How Will Using Educational Technology Benefit Students in the Future?
Here’s another way of viewing it: we know the return to in-person schooling after the pandemic shutdowns did not return us to the “old normal” but instead thrust us into a “new normal,” a time of new disruptions. We should view the 2020s as the beginning of a new era in education history, a rapid acceleration of school change centered on new demands from students and parents, advancing AI, and a growing reliance on technology in teaching and learning inside and outside of the classroom.
So what can we do to serve today’s students while transitioning into this dramatic, new future? We need to remember students of all ages still need human interaction and kind, supportive teachers—but we must also acknowledge Gen Z and Gen Alpha have grown up interacting with smartphones and tablets. Today’s students need to interact with technology in classrooms. The use of digital tools (online education apps and programs used by students) is no longer an option; it’s a necessity. Teachers must blend the old with the new, the paper with the apps. Digital tools, when used in the right way and in the right balance, make teaching and learning more efficient, and if we are going to keep Gen Z and Gen Alpha engaged, they need to type on keypads, draw pictures on touch screens, insert images into Google slides, and answer online assessment questions.
Digital tools should be used to promote high rigor. The three upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are analyze, evaluate, and create. By 2072, our 2022 graduates will have spent 50 years adjusting to new technology, new jobs, new cultural norms, and new ways of living; that’s five decades analyzing new situations, evaluating new options, and creating new ways to live and work. If Gen Z and Gen Alpha learn to think rigorously today, they will more successfully adjust to changes tomorrow.
Using Educational Technology Rigorously
Teachers should evaluate the level of rigor when using digital tools. Some of the most popular online programs just ask students to recall information, often quickly and in a game format. While these programs are engaging and can effectively review content and assess student knowledge, they only ask students to think at the remember level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teachers should also implement digital tools that ask students to analyze, evaluate, and create content as they produce unique products. For example, a teacher could first use a remember level program to review content and check for student understanding, and then the teacher could have students use a second program to create an online book, slide presentation, or video to extend learning. Students could work independently or with a partner and have profound conversations about their products. Think of digital tools as new catalysts for high rigor.
Helping teachers build a deep tool chest of digital tools is a new professional development challenge, partly because a new gap has emerged in our teaching ranks between teachers who are highly proficient in using technology and teachers who are just beginning to learn how to use technology. All educators must work together to eliminate the digital teaching gap. Here are five tips to help teachers and administrators to close the gap.
- Take ONE step at a time. No teacher should be expected to go from beginning to highly proficient in a year or even in two years, but teachers who begin with small steps and see success will want to take bigger steps and continue their growth.
- Know it’s okay to fail. Teachers need to remember there will be days when the internet or online program doesn’t work. It happens to everybody. Administrators need to assure the teachers it’s okay to experiment with new digital tools, even if there are times when the lesson falls apart because of technology issues.
- A staff should focus on implementing the same one or two new digital tools each year. We must be careful not to overwhelm teachers with too many new apps. Focusing on one or two tools each year allows teachers to build capacity. If teachers are learning the same new digital tools together, they can help each other in staff meetings, in PD, in peer coaching, and in team or department meetings.
- Differentiate PD in technology training. Differentiation isn’t just for students. PD leaders should work to differentiate for teachers as well, taking into account their current comfort with technology and adapting their training to fit the needs of the teacher.
- Administrators must lead the way with their own technology growth. School leaders need to grow alongside their teachers, model how to use the digital tools in PD and staff meetings, and share their own successes and failures. This will go a long way in helping the teachers see them as true education leaders.
Perhaps the most important point for closing the digital teaching gap is to combine commitment and support for digital growth with a deep sense of urgency. We need to work with educators at their individual ability levels to support them and elevate them—but we need to remember our Gen Z and Gen Alpha students need rigorous, technologically proficient educators now.
They will thank us in 2072.
Mark White is an author, speaker, and professional learning consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Contact us to have our thought leaders be your vision partners.
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