Educators: Are You Really Technology Literate?
The Internet is firmly here to stay. Computers and the World Wide Web have come a long way since the net first launched in the late sixties. Computers and all their silicon associates have cemented themselves into the modern world. Cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, tablets – the list goes on and on. Screen-literacy has become a mandatory part of success in today’s world.
We are living in the Information Era. This has changed many aspects of the education system and its components. Among many other changes, there is a new concept of what a student is. Industrial-age schools saw students as passive individuals who sat and absorbed whatever a teacher taught them. Students growing up during the Information Era are expected to take ownership of their learning process. They are taught to be problem solvers and to use the resources available to them as efficiently as possible. Students educated within this new concept of schooling seem to be much more confident in their work. They are building their knowledge themselves and work with information to come to their own conclusions and opinions.
Technology is a very broad term. Essentially, it’s the intersection of several areas of science and engineering and refers to how we improve our lives through technical means. In today’s classroom setting, technology usually refers to sophisticated digital electronic devices. Key terms to be familiar with are hardware and software. Hardware is the physical infrastructure making up a certain item of technology. When referring to a personal computer, this includes things like the hard disk drives, the motherboard, and other components that make up the physical machine. Software is a set of instructions for the hardware—the programs, applications, and operating system.
Of particular importance in the realm of teaching is instructional software. These are programs or applications designed to provide instruction to a computer user, making use of various methods. Instructional software has been around since the late 1970s. Instructional software is usually not designed to replace the role of the teacher, but rather to assist teachers in providing students with more individual opportunities to learn. It can be a powerful aid to teaching when used and promoted correctly.
An important concept to be aware of is open-source software. While companies such as Microsoft or Apple do not allow their users to view the code that makes up their applications, large online communities have been created around software with freely available source code. These companies include Linux, Apache, Mozilla, and many others. The software they develop is free to download and can be modified extensively by the user to create any additions they desire, which can then be redistributed for free. Even without extensive experience in programming or modifying source code, you’ll be able to use these online communities to acquire open-source instructional software solutions at no cost to yourself other than your patience and time.
Another concept to be aware of in technology is cloud computing, which uses the capabilities of the Internet to provide services to technology users that are largely independent of their location or usage device. Gone are the days of having to use a personal computer to access the Internet. We can now use mobile phones and tablet computers to access the Internet while we are on the move. But the graphic-processing capabilities of a desktop-based personal computer are usually far more powerful than that of a handheld device. Programs have to be adaptable enough to be used efficiently on these different technology platforms. Cloud computing, which moves the heavy processing to remote servers, will become of increasing importance as the diversity of user devices continues to evolve and increase.
As a teacher, it’s your job to make sure your students are technology-literate. Limiting students’ exposure to all of today’s digital devices in favor of sticking with more traditional media will only hurt them in the end. Students need to be able to learn and compete effectively in a world where technology is only becoming more and more important to higher education, work, and every day life. Take the time that you need to become familiar with all the buttons and wires of the modern age, and you’ll become a resource as invaluable to your students as Wi-Fi.