We’ve all been there. In the middle of a lecture or class activity, that one student at the back of the classroom slowly raises a hand. You hesitate to call on them. “When are we ever going to use this in the “real world?” they ask. You pause.
An even greater question is how do we find the balance between preparing students to perform well on high stake assessments, while also encouraging them to be educated citizens who enjoy learning for learning’s sake? Yes, testing often drives the decisions in a school and goes a long way toward evaluating our effectiveness as educators. But we also have to acknowledge that we entered the profession to guide students through a relationship with learning, not just to tick boxes for assessment purposes.
Technology is one thing we can use to narrow the gap between curriculum requirements and the romanticised perception of the life-long scholar. In today’s technologically inundated society learning happens continuously. It looks different than in many of our schools, where textbooks and teachers are still the conveyors of knowledge. Outside of school, for our young adult students especially, technology takes up the mantle as the primary method and source of learning. They ask Google the questions that they think of daily and watch YouTube videos to learn new skills. The answer to nearly any question is literally at their fingertips.
So what can we do about this disparity? By blending the often-prescribed curriculum and assessment in school with the technologically driven style of education outside of school, we can help students see that learning is not something that only happens within the classroom walls.
Accept that social media is more than social
We may never be able to convince our students that calculus or test-taking is as interesting as the time they spend on social media, but we can, surprisingly, show them that social media and education are not mutually exclusive. One way we can marry the two is by showing students how social media
can be used in marketing, political campaigns, and social movements.
Powerful history lessons could be taught around Twitter’s influence on the Arab Spring, the 2016 US presidential campaign, or social unity campaigns like #prayforParis after the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. Business teachers can design lessons around how LinkedIn can be used to build a professional network. Language and literature teachers could use social media to follow trends in language development. By showing students that there are connections between the high school curriculum and a medium that matters to them, they will hopefully begin to see that the greater themes and messages of their high school education really are compatible with the way their lives function outside of school.
Take it global
Despite the fact that our world is more connected today than it has ever been, schools are often isolated places. Outside of school , students regularly learn new things, from video game skills to photography techniques and even hairstyles. Essentially, our students are taking part in a global system of learning every day. In the classroom, however, we tend to use technology to simply provide updated versions of posters and worksheets. We use it to have students create static content for the classroom to be viewed by the teacher, contributing to the perception that learning and life are separate entities with the former driven by assessment and the latter by interest. Instead of just using technology to have them practice or create, we should also use it to connect.
Without too much effort, we could have students connect with professionals in the field over Zoom or email who could explain how they use the content in their professional lives. Students could publish their work on blogs and receive public feedback to improve the quality of their work. They could communicate with a school in another country to compare and contrast political systems or practice speaking another language. The possibilities are limitless.
So the next time a student asks me when they are going to use knowledge of iambic pentameter after graduating high school, I am still not going to have a great answer. However, I hope it will be clear how a creative and thought provoking hashtag to get people interested in even the driest of topics. How are you going to use technology to foster your classroom of authentic scholars?