With an entire generation “born-digital”, children literally hit the digital ground running. Inroads of technology into all facets of a child’s life – be it education or recreation – makes it essential to set a strong stage so that the child builds on a sturdy foundation. Setting the foundation for technology-enhanced learning, even life itself, requires active participation by educators, parents and children alike. An active discussion is essential to understand the needs vis-à-vis capability of this nascent field, the word “nascent” being used in the context of time in terms of human existence, and not proliferation or impact of technology. The design of a digitally enhanced lesson plan requires constant feedback that helps better integration of technology and learning.
Class discussions on the use of technology are critical to student understanding and help add relevance to curriculum, broaden both student and teacher perspectives, highlight conflicts and contradictions, buttress information, and support community-learning. The level of student understanding of technology and technology-assisted curriculum can only be assessed through open discussions. Interactions with peers, both within the classroom and/or school, and in extended virtual support groups can help question preconceptions, assist in clarifying notions, enhance understanding, and help students arrive at independent conclusions. An open peer discussion can help the student develop a sense of self-identity while simultaneously placing her in a cornucopia of experience, perspectives, and opinions. Discussion forums could also help in addressing the social dimensions of education, for example, letting students getting to know one another. The true benefit of discussion forums is that the participants (including the teacher) come together as a community of learners and instinctively develop a self-help group, so that eventually the teacher becomes a facilitator, rather than a guide.
The stage for discussion could be real or virtual, but the environment itself must be safe, while free enough to allow sharing of opinion, thoughts and experiences without fear of derision or exploitation. The convener of the discussion must therefore be trustworthy and competent enough to direct the four A’s that govern discussions – Approach, Attitude, Atmosphere and Action. She must also excel in moderating counterproductive reactionary responses and inappropriate activities. While spontaneous discussions could be very relevant to the course matter, it is essential to also have a well-planned forum that addresses concerns and questions periodically.
Technology can be used to enhance the discussion itself. Digital discussion boards can offer a versatile platform for interaction between students and teachers. With careful moderation, discussions can be highly interactive, and the fact that the discussion is recorded enables archiving and provides a fertile ground for the academician to design and direct the course. A less “open” and more private form of communication would be the use of mobile phones and emails which offers a certain amount of anonymity that the student may be more comfortable with. Interactive technology such as Clickers can be of great use between student and teacher and could foster a healthy discussion environment in the classroom.
But it takes more than the teacher and student to define education. Parents are essential part of the mix and have traditionally participated in the shaping of the educational system of the era/location. A recent survey by MetLife Survey of the American Teacher shows that parent engagement in American schools has increased in the past 25 years. This is true with technology-assisted education as well. The goal of parental involvement with technology enhanced education is to not only keep the parents informed, but to also establish contexts to strengthen learning and development. Given the newness of the concept of digitally driven education, schools may still be uncertain about the quantum of technology involvement in education and may want to obtain parental consent or input for the use of technology in the classroom. Although there are no set rules and legislations that prescribe the extent of parental say in designing a tech-enabled curriculum, the underlying understanding is that children are given technology exposure and education in accordance with parents’ approval.
It is impossible for educators to stay abreast of technology trends without support and help from parents and this critically depends on maintenance of running conversations, establishment of house rules and making wise choices on the use of technology. This in turn entails that the parent be given a platform to interact with the school and children on the digital arena. Programs like Connecting Families are designed to enable parent participation in school and encourage schools and communities to be technologically connected through careful researched data, hosting guides, conversation topics and printable resources to share.
Schools must also take steps to ensure parents participation such as implementing digital use policy agreements as some schools already do. This is a classroom technology contract, so to speak, that describes in detail to the parent how technology will be used in class, the basic guidelines that both teachers and students must know and keeping parents regularly updated on tools their wards are using. This gives parents an opportunity to learn about the technology their children use, which can, in effect bridge the digital generation divide. Encouraging parents to participate in school-centric social networking groups and blogs can also help establish the school to home connection.
Unlike well-established traditional modes of education that are governed largely by academicians, parents, teachers and children collectively define tech-enabled education; their roles complement and reinforce each other and enhance education through continuous discussions. Thinking of parents, students and teachers as “partners” in a discussion rightly reflects the route toward a shared goal of a technology-ready future.