"It may be that there is as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations."
- Bennett, Maton & Kervin’s (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence
Recently, i was listening to an episode of Jon Bergmann's podcast, Flipped Learning Worldwide that was titled What Old-School Teachers Know that New-School Teachers Need to Know. Jon indicated that there had been a twitter conversation recently talking about how #oldschoolteachers are perceived, but that we need to remember they still have valuable knowledge and expertise.
My experience with the term old school teachers is around the way experienced teachers do or do not engage with technology. Old school teachers are apparently incapable of learning, or do no want to learn how to use technology, while newer or younger teachers are often automatically tapped on the shoulder to be the IT person. I have heard "you're young - you can be the tech person" said.
I find this discourse troubling in its in accuracy, and it harks back to the digital natives vs digital immigrants conversation. Marc Prensky first coined the term in 2001 in an article titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and it is worth noting that the magazine in which that article was published, On the Horizon, was not a peer-reviewed magazine. The discourse around this topic since then has become about older people are not good at or with technology and younger people are.
There are a number of problems inherently wrong with this discourse - what does it mean to be good at or with technology? The inventors of the various technologies typically referred to in this discourse, computers, smartphones, tablets, etc., are all in the age group to be considered digital immigrants, yet they are, if anything, the original natives. The basic assumption in this discourse, if you are old then you are not very good with technology; and if you are young then you are good with technology, is also quite clearly false.
I am thinking of three particular teachers at the moment, all of whom would be considered late-career teachers. One of these teachers is neither comfortable with using technology, nor open to learning about it and how to use it. This teacher has learned just enough to get by in terms of writing reports, emails etc. That teacher retired at the end of last year. A brilliant teacher in his preferred subject area, but not interested in technology.
The next was someone who did not feel particularly comfortable with technology but was open to learning how to use it; but only after you had convinced them that the technology had a solid pedagogical application. This teacher was highly skeptical, but open to being convinced. I spent some time with that person helping her to understand they why behind using various pieces of technology, some of which they took on board, and others were left by the wayside.
The final teacher that I am thinking of was quite comfortable with technology. Would be quite happy to be shown something new, whether by colleagues or students, to learn about it and to incorporate it into their practice if appropriate. This teacher did use some pedagogical strategies that might be considered old school, but was very good at her role.
Three old school teachers, each of whom had different feelings towards technology in the classroom and different levels of self-efficacy.
I am now thinking of three teachers who could be considered early or mid-career teachers. The first is in their early thirties. Does not use social media in any form, has a fairly basic non-smart phone, needed some help to work out how to use the interactive whiteboard, and how to use Google Suite to to write his teaching program. This person is an age where it would be assumed you are good with technology. The next is someone in their mid-twenties. Uses social media, email, Google Suite, but will not go beyond that. They are comfortable with what they use and do not want to move beyond that. The final person is someone who was tapped on the shoulder and told that they were going to be the tech person because they were young (mid-thirties). This person is young and is quite happy to explore new technology, how it fits pedagogically, share it with others, runs training sessions with colleagues who want to learn more.
Some of those who have taught me the most about using technology would be considered digital immigrants. Many I know who are my age or younger can use social media comfortably but would not know how to set up a Google Doc for their students to do some collaborative writing in.
This divide between older and younger teachers and the assumptions about technology-efficacy levels needs to stop. It is not helpful and it is not accurate. Being young and using a smartphone along with some social media apps does not equate to being able to use technology as an effective pedagogical tool.
The first of the older teachers that I mentioned was an amazing teacher and could very effectively communicate the essential points of what was being addressed in a lesson to students, irrespective of whether they were in Kindergarten or in Year Six. I learned a lot about communication in an outdoors environment from this teacher. I also learned a lot about teaching oracy to students from the third of the older teachers. Old school teaches are also experienced teachers, with a wealth of knowledge and practical experience built over years of teaching.
While there is a difference, as Jon phrased it, between having been teaching for thirty years, and having been teaching for one year thirty times, we can and should sit alongside them to share our collective knowledge.
What are your areas of opportunity that you may be able to tap into an experienced teacher for help with? What can you offer to a colleague to help develop their knowledge and practice?