Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Powerful Opportunities for Content Creation & Publication in the Digital Classroom

I began teaching in 1989. My first classroom didn't have a phone in it and the prime piece of technology I had was one of those old fashioned turntables. I remember using that to share my love of blues music with students by playing a Muddy Waters album for them in connection to a short story we were reading. I had a cassette tape player too, and I remember sharing a dynamic dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells” using this device. I also had access to a VHS player, and I remember sharing scenes from the movie Roxanne with my students as we read the play Cyrano de Bergerac. That was the extent of the technology in my classroom at the time, and yes I did have a chalkboard and colored chalk that students enjoyed using to share drawings and messages on my chalkboard throughout the day.

But the point of this trip down memory lane was not to tell you how old I really am. It was to simply say this: Technology when I began teaching in 1989 seems quaint and unsophisticated now, but even at that time, I pushed the limits of teaching and learning with the tools that were available. I used the technology, not for its own sake, but because those were the tools that helped me teach in the most engaging and effective manner. In a sense, that mindset is really the same mindset of a 21st century teacher.

Engaging students in my 1989 classroom and in a 21st century classroom presented the same challenges. I found myself trying to answer these kinds of questions then, and also in the 2006 when I began to heavily engage students in the use of digital technologies.
  • How do you engage students who are more interested and engaged in things outside of school than inside it?
  • How can I make the best use of technologies to both engage students in my content and teach them to make the most of the technologies themselves?
  • How can my instruction best prepare students for a world outside of my classroom and school?
These questions are just as relevant now as they were then.

But here in 2013, digital technologies offer ours students so many more opportunities to learn in ways extending beyond the four walls of the classroom.. Here's what students today can do:
  • Students today can be publishers of content. In 1989, it was a struggle to find ways for students to publish content. It was usually limited to either making physical copies and distributing them or posting on classroom walls. Today, blogs and content sharing platforms make it possible for students to publish for global audiences. Publishing content has become cheap and efficient in our digital classrooms.
  • Students today can easily create multiple types of media content. During classes in 1989, my students were mostly relegated to creating content that was either textual or graphic, with the graphic content mostly being freehand drawings. Collages were also common. In today’s digital classrooms, students can still create text, but the tools to create video, photos, audio have all become prolific and easy-to-use. Students in today’s digital classrooms have power tools of multi-media content creation at their fingertips.
  • Students today have many, many more choices of the kinds of content they can create, hence they are not limited to the research paper or dioramas (Anyone remember these?). In 1989, most of my students content creation was mainly writing papers, creating collages, making drawings, writing/acting out original plays, or creating other kinds of genres. Today’s students have new forms of textual media, new forms of graphical communication tools, and new ways to engage audiences digitally. Students in today’s classrooms can create their own apps, web pages, blogs, vlogs, with the whole global community being the limit.
For those of us who began teaching in the late 1980s, the classrooms of today offer our students so many more opportunities to engage in content creation, content publication, and content sharing. In spite of this, the fundamental educator mindset is the same. In 1989, to create an engaging classroom, I made the most of tech tools I had then. In 2013, that tech toolbox has expanded enormously, so teaching and learning through content creation and publication has expanded as well. It's this wonderful 1989 perspective of teaching and learning that makes me appreciate the greater possibilities of the 21st century classroom.

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