Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Being a 21st Century Educator

Teaching in the 21st century has many advantages. Multiple technologies make possible what was impossible twenty-five years ago, when I was a student at the same school where I now teach. Although the technology is faster, better, and more innovative than when I roamed the halls of Mt. St. Joseph, teaching itself is not incredibly different. To me, being a 21st century educator and innovator means a focus on one thing: choice.

In the above clip from Jurassic Park, Dr. Malcolm laments over technology becoming blinding to the point that scientists do things just because they can instead of asking whether they should. If we replace the word "scientists" with "teachers," my views on 21st century education are perfectly summed up by Dr. Malcolm. There is so much technology at our disposal as teachers that many teachers use tech just because it is there and they can. These teachers do not exercise their ability to choose.

Teaching, as always, relies on pedagogy and content. What you want your students to learn, understand, and synthesize is still paramount. True, there are many tech tools that can help streamline material and make it more flavorful for our students. There is tech that makes teachers' lives easier and more efficient. But it is incumbent upon each teacher to choose only that tech that complements a lesson, a unit, or a project. Using a Google product, or YouTube, or an app simply to flout one's use of technology can be damaging and self-defeating. 

Being the best 21st century educator possible means knowing your content, understanding the myriad ways your students best learn, and then applying thoughtful, appropriate technologies, when it best serves the educator and, most importantly, the students. Educators have powerful tools at their disposal, but the most important technology choice is whether to use it at all or not. Only when the technology supports and facilitates learning should it be applied.

In this respect, teaching has not changed much since I was a student. What has changed is what technology is available -- and on a grand scale. More than ever, a teacher must understand his students and his courses and understand what technology helps make his students better learners. With this mentality, focusing on choice, a teacher can wield technology confidently, helping students become more collaborative, allowing students the freedom to express themselves more creative, guiding students to think more critically, and have students communicate more effectively.


  1. I really enjoyed seeing your thoughts about making technology intentional. I feel that's also incredibly important! Now-a-days, teachers I think are stuck in a rut where they feel like they're using technology just because it's there, which in the end doesn't address the students needs and wants for rigor and to climb the blooms taxonomy scale. I also enjoyed your integration of the outside meme and clip-clearly fits in well with your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice retrospective video, David. Your blog pretty much summarized the TPACK model rationale in the fourth paragraph. Good insights and musings. I call Choice the non-C C of 21st century teaching, both for teachers and students, and you support this with sound pedagogical reflection.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more, David. I also hope you win the award for most memes and movie scenes used in a Loyola ET blog post.
    In all seriousness, I love your focus on "choice." I think educators, and the larger forces that drive education, can almost get tunnel-vision when it comes to a certain technology, or pedagogy, etc. Almost to the detriment of the real goal of what we do in our classroom. I'm glad that you articulated, quite well, the choices that we have at our disposal and the choice to use them.

  4. You are absolutely right when you say 21st teachers not only need to know the content, but how your students learn and which technologies to use. It's important to know when technology fits well, and when it really shouldn't be used. I enjoyed the Jurassic clip!