The Rise of New Media Technologies in Education
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated September 2010
The last few years have seen sweeping, profound changes in the way we interact with the world around us. The way we get information, communicate, conduct business—our lives are shaped by powerful changes in technology. In recent years, methods and modes of instruction in education have come to reflect these changes; traditional teaching methods are giving way to new educational approaches as the use of technology in the classroom is becoming more prevalent.
As new generations of students are “born wired”—having grown up with the Web and comfortable with computing—teachers face new challenges, like being able to understand and assess students’ methods of learning and communication. To some extent, such a distinction in understanding and use of technology can be considered a culture clash. Students are “digital natives,” having been born into the world of technology;teachers most often are merely “digital immigrants.” Within this reality, it is important that teachers and instructors stay abreast of technological developments as they relate to communication, information gathering and learning. A well-informed teacher can help lay the groundwork for the way students use and learn from technology, helping them to develop higher learning and thinking skills.
And if you already know technology as if you were born with a chip implanted in your hand, it’s still good to brush up on the most cutting-edge equipment currently being used in the classroom.
A New Approach for a New Century
How exactly is the 21st century classroom different in this new learning environment? Well, you’re not likely to find a classroom today that primarily uses a one-way, lecture-based communication model. Even the physical layouts of some classrooms have changed—computer workstations and collaborative working environments are replacing rows of chairs facing a blackboard. Whereas traditional teaching methods emphasized the teacher’s role in dispensing information via a lecture or lesson, research has shown that people learn effectively in many different ways, and teachers are developing more flexible curricula to account for variations in learning style. Teachers are instructing by presenting students with various methods by which they can access and manage information for themselves.
As education becomes more integrated with online computing, remote access and distance learning technologies are becoming more prevalent. It’s not so rare anymore for entire courses and degree programs to be offered online, where educators and students are using a wide variety of tools to work within these new “virtual learning” environments. For example, a student in Bangladesh can take a Web-authoring course at a university in Brussels, confer with a professor on a daily basis and collaborate with fellow students online—all from his or her home computer! This is an awfully exciting time to be an educator.
The New Media Toolbox
Adoption of digital tools is happening across the curriculum. One of the benefits of the rise of “new media” tools is their application to any discipline. The following three digital tools can be made entirely public or private, based on district regulations and common sense, and are just a few examples of what’s being done today in classrooms across the United States.
In Language Arts and English classes, for example, the “blog”—short for “Web log,” a form of online diary where images, texts and Web links can be uploaded to the Internet—is a new way of tackling persuasive writing. Whereas formerly, due mainly to time, students were limited to writing essays with the sole reader being their teacher, with new blog technologies, students can post their writing in a public forum, gathering feedback from multiple sources, and feeling that they are actually writing for a purpose. Blogs provide opportunities for readers to “comment” on students’ writing, turning even sometimes reticent students into classroom leaders, and providing a history of classroom interaction that can lend itself to even more “teachable moments.” Plus, students are more likely to “care” if they know that their peers (and perhaps even their parents) will read their writing.
In history classes, students are engaging in virtual world development. Virtual worlds are 3D social network environments where graphics and communications technologies (chat, email, etc.) combine to create immersive simulations. Students across the United States as young as 6th grade are building Mayan temples, the first Jamestown settlement, medieval villages and ancient Egyptian agrarian communities, applying what they learn in their textbooks as guided by state standards to this graphic and interactive media. Students themselves become “avatars”—graphical representations of themselves in the virtual world environment—and interact with one another “in-world.” Students at once learn the curriculum, and at the same time develop advanced communication skills. See scicentr.org to learn more.
Finally, wikis are collaborative online tools that have several authors (compared to a blog, which usually has only one), and serve like interactive encyclopedias. The benefit of a wiki is its ability for students to work together on a project and track its progress. For teachers, the evaluation of group work and learning becomes more transparent as each student’s individual work is logged on the wiki. Students themselves learn about project management and teamwork as they use this tool to reflect on the steps they’ve taken toward completion of an assignment, and the communication of its evolution.
The Future is Wide Open
These three tools are simply the beginning of what’s available to teachers now that new media technologies are readily available—and often free. And that doesn’t include the use of podcasts, the benefits of utilizing iPods and personal computers, and SmartBoards—wall-length interactive computer screens that will soon replace the whiteboard much as the whiteboard replaced the chalkboard.
This is not to say that traditional teaching methods have completely disappeared. Tried and true methods of classroom management and non-digital teaching and learning remain. Access to technology across communities also affects how educators adapt pedagogy and curricula to digital resources, whether this be the financial resources available to a school or simply its institutional personality. Whereas some districts will provide professional training opportunities on wiki, blog or virtual world development, others continue to prioritize office applications such as PowerPoint and Microsoft Excel. Some provide no technological support whatsoever. Therefore, each individual teacher should prepare him or herself for a classroom of students engaged and excited by the digital revolution, regardless of the institutional resources that may be available. Be sure that your graduate program of choice provides coursework and training in new media and education technologies, or you may find yourself quickly passed by on that proverbial information superhighway.
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Photo by Rosaura Ochoa