Teaching in students’ digital worlds or the world of Academia


Teaching | Monday, September 30, 2013

Teaching in students’ digital worlds or the world of Academia

Living in students' digital worlds

If my students’ digital world is that building right there, I’m moving my instruction in to that one next door. It’s all about engagement and teaching in the way their brains are wired.

My students often impress me with how tech savvy they are. 

They manage multiple social media sites and have learned the nuances of writing messages there to really get their ideas across.

They curate their devices with apps tailored to their needs. They share the best with friends and often have detailed explanations why the worst don’t work.

If I need to talk about the pros and cons of the latest iOS update or my recent exciting Twitter retweet by Duck Dynasty’s Jase Robertson, they’re usually the best conversationalists.

Theirs is a digital world.

Their classrooms, by and large, are not.

They’re often littered with textbooks (by the title of the blog, you probably know how I feel about textbooks). If students need to look something up, they’ll find it on their phones in 10 seconds.

They work in workbooks, complete worksheets and write on paper. Their digital devices often house everything they need to remember and everything they’ve created.

They listen to lectures when they’d rather find answers faster through Google searches, Twitter questions and YouTube videos.

Can’t blame them. Usually, so would I.

This is where they live, but we force them to learn through those methods. No wonder keeping students interested is so tough.

Textbooks. Workbooks. Worksheets. Lectures. Should we force students to learn that way?

It’s a tricky issue. Do we, as I say in conference presentations, move in to the house next door to our students’ digital homes and embrace social media, digital tools and online research? Or do we force them to take the bus to the Town of Academia, home to traditional teaching methods and tools that don’t relate to students’ lives?

[RELATED: 12 ways to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet]

I’m buying that house next door and moving in as quickly as possible.

Here’s why:

  • Student engagement and buy-in is such a tricky thing to get. There’s a constant barrage of requests for their attention via ads, constantly updating information and today’s on-demand society. If I can capture their attention and focus it on my classroom message by living in their world, I’m doing it.
  • Helping them learn in a way that’s parallel to how their brain is wired just makes sense. On their own, they don’t write by hand as much. They type. They don’t passively receive information. They go and find it. Interact with it. Then they share what they learned. Our classrooms should reflect that.
  • Our goal is to make lifelong learners, right? If our students need to learn on their own, they’re going to do what the rest of us do, too — find the fastest, easiest way to get quality information that answers their questions. Often, an Internet search will do that better than digging through a closet or bookshelf for a book.

A colleague once challenged my ideas of ditching my textbooks, saying that students will be required to use textbooks in college, read from them and look up information in them. They’ll need to listen to lectures and write papers in college.

What they really need to do is learn and know how to learn in today’s society. Sure, some professors will lean on texts and lectures, but so many are integrating technology and new teaching/learning techniques.

The momentum is headed toward 21st century learning.

We need to prepare students for future. For the world they’re going to live in. Not the one we lived in as students.

Do we as teachers need to move in to students’ digital worlds? Or do they need that practice in academia? Leave your opinion in a comment below!

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