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Dr. Kathleen Godfrey- Turning the Digital Native into the Digital Teacher

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January 20, 2012 02:41 pm


The following post comes from Dr. Kathleen Godfrey. Dr. Godfrey is an associate professor of English at California State University in Fresno California and director of the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project.

When I first started thinking about using technology with my pre-service teachers, I made the mistake of assuming that these students, most of whom were young enough to be considered “digital natives,” would understand that technology is a powerful tool for learning. It’s true that my students useWikipedia and Facebook, but they saw these applications as guilty pleasures. At some point in their education, they’d been taught that Wikipedia had no educational value, although they surreptitiously used it like I did—as a way to get a broad view of a topic to help them begin their research—and Facebook was merely a vehicle for self-expression and connection.

My goal as an educator was to help my students see that, in fact, they were actually learning through technology—and that what they experienced could be translated to the classroom. Since my colleagues mostly use a more traditional discussion or lecture based approach to instruction, some of my students hadn’t experienced wikis, blogging, social bookmarking, professional learning networks (like Twitter or Facebook can be), or even applications like Animoto or Glogster in their coursework.

I also learned, however, that the applications I thought were valuable in promoting a real audience for writing and a collaborative experience in developing curriculum sometimes were not highly valued by the students. They collaborated via wiki because I required them to, but they saw this platform more as an obstacle to than a facilitation of collaboration. For these applications to work effectively with my students, I had to give them face-to-face time in the classroom to organize and brainstorm.

After three semesters of using various tools with pre-service teachers, I find that I’m still figuring out how to persuade my students that technology has a place in their future professions. Still, I refuse to be content with the occasional inclusion of a YouTube video or some other less game-changing technology, since we are firmly entrenched in a world in which 21st century literacies are integral to communication and learning.

In summary, then, here’s what I have learned about using technology in the classroom:

  • Technology is a pedagogical tool to be used thoughtfully and purposefully.
  • Technology should add something substantial to class instruction; it shouldn’t be used just for its own sake.
  • Although it has the power to transform teaching and learning, I need to provide scaffolding to help students learn to value technology-facilitated learning.
  • Just because someone is a digital native doesn’t mean that they will be able to learn new technologies easily. I have to incorporate substantial amounts of time for instruction in both how and why to use new applications.
  • Less is more. Although my students benefit from seeing me model how to use technology effectively, they have the ability to learn complex new technologies on a limited basis. If I really want them to become master users of something complex (say Google Sites or a wiki), they need to use it for much of the semester—and they need to be able to focus on just that one tool.

Digital learning may have taken hold in some parts of the world, but in my region, I have to take into account where my students are at and adapt accordingly. If I do that, I’m modeling exactly what I want my pre-service teachers to do: assess their future students and design curriculum that meets their needs.

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