In the article ‘Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies’ by Bryan Alexander (2008), many issues surrounding digital literacies in our current education system are presented. While he does recognize that there are teachers embracing the need to incorporate new technologies and practices into their own educational pedagogy, he acknowledges that “K-12 institutions are often behind, building classrooms constructed physically and socially along decades-old patterns” (Alexander, 2008). This struggle between integrating technology while still covering the required learning outcomes, is one that has been at the forefront of the British Columbia (B.C.) education system including the creation of ‘The B.C. Education Plan’ (2011). While the idea of personalized learning and using web 2.0 tools, as described by Alexander, to strengthen the skills students require to advance in today’s current work force sounds idyllic, actually implementing such a plan will require more than a mere document published by the B.C. Ministry of Education.
It is no secret that technology currently plays a significant role in the personal lives of most Canadians, as well as in their professional responsibilities. It was found that the top 10 ‘in demand jobs in 2010 did not even exist in 2004’. Furthermore, teachers are given the task of “prepar(ing) students for jobs that have not yet been created, using technologies that don’t yet exist, and solving problems that we don’t even know we have yet” Fisch (2009). This need to change how we look at education has resulted in a new term being coined; ‘The 21st Century Learner’. The B.C. Ministry of Education (2011) currently describes 21st Century Learning as a model where, “students use educational technologies to apply knowledge to new situations, analyze information, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions. Utilizing emerging technologies to provide expanded learning opportunities is critical to the success of future generations.”
This need to address skills required for learners is supported by Alexander where he discusses how technology has changed the definition of literacy. He demonstrates this by explaining “in the process of searching for material through a search engine like Google, the student is faced with choices about how to sift through documents, assess the quality and credibility of information and make decisions about intellectual property” (Alexander 2008, p. 157). From personal experience I have found that this need to allow students the freedom to do research on the internet, and be able to assess what they find, is often suppressed in classrooms due to teachers’ fear of letting go of control. Alexander points out that “the literacy requirements for such searches are very complex, shift rapidly, and require new skills that encompass a more worldly public literacy”. Teacher’s already struggle to ensure that all of the learning outcomes are covered in a single school year, let alone incorporating the internet skills required to ensure students are using technology in a safe and effective way.
Currently, in many schools, it is up to the individual teachers to foster these skills and keep up with advancements in technology. However, I believe that our current system cannot handle the changes that will need to be made if we want to successfully develop those ‘21st century learners’. In December of 2010 The B.C. Premier’s Technology Council Report set out to describe what a transformation in the educational system might look like. They described the needs of a new knowledge-based society as one that, “traditional skills like literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking need to be applied in different ways and supplemented with new skills and attributes in order for students to become full participants in a knowledge-based society.” (Premier’s Technology Council (2010).
I believe that in order for our system to successfully develop these skills at all levels we need to not only make some radical changes to the current design of our system, but increased support from the Ministry of Education in both funding and direction will need to be addressed.
This idea that there needs to be a shift in how education is approached in the province was attempted by the B.C. government in a document titled ‘the B.C. Education Plan (2011)’. This plan sought to educate students through personalized learning and technology integration. While the plan appears to be a huge leap forward as it calls for more individual based learning, there is a lack of framework and policy on how to apply the plan given our current issues with classroom composition. With increasing class sizes and a growing number of students with special needs, teachers are struggling to keep up with the demands, let alone implement a personalized learning structure. Furthermore, the funding to obtain technology is the responsibility of individual schools and often does not take into consideration the financial need for maintenance and replacement as technology advances.
Technology is increasing at such great rates that even if teachers were trained on current technology, chances are that those skills would be obsolete in the near future as might the websites and sources currently used to support that learning. For example, Alexander discusses Wikipedia which used to be frowned upon as a source at an academic level. He states “students increasingly consult Wikipedia for research, to the consternation of some teachers” (p. 15). However a study by Reavley et. Al (2012) found that “the quality of information on depression and schizophrenia on Wikipedia is generally as good as, or better than, that provided by centrally controlled websites”. The amount of knowledge required to keep up with current practices using the internet as a tool is not a reality for many teachers.
While Alexander provides some valid points on the current tools that can be used in the classroom and what the future may hold for education, without the funding and direction from our Ministry of Education, full integration of personalized learning and technology will not be a reality in the province of B.C. Even if teachers were given an opportunity to be trained in current trends of technology, the reality is that ongoing training would be required to keep their knowledge up to date and currently there is not any funding or strategy in place to address these needs.
Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies. Theory into Practice, 47(2), 150-160.
B.C. Ministry of Education (2011). 21st Century Learning. B.C. Ministry of Education. Retrieved November 18, 2012, from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/dist_learning/21century_learning.htm
Fisch, K. (Producer) (2009). Did you know? Shift happens. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBwT_09boxE&feature=player_detailpage
Premier’s Technology Council (2010, December). A Vision for 21st Century Education. Retrieved November 18, 2012, from http://www.gov.bc.ca/premier/attachments/PTC_vision%20for_education.pdf
Reavley, N. J., Jorm, A. F., Mackinnon, A. J., Morgan, A. J., Alvarez-Jimenez, M., Hetrick, S. E., . . . . (2012). Quality of information sources about mental disorders: A comparison of wikipedia with centrally controlled web and printed sources. Psychological Medicine, 42(8), 1-10. doi: 10.1017/S003329171100287X