Oct 31 2006

Why Educators Need to Become “Digital Natives"

What are we doing now that technology use is no longer optional?

When you hear the words blackboard, cut, paste and print, what images come to mind? If these terms simply conjure up images of elementary school activities, someone is likely to brand you a “digital immigrant,” especially if that someone happens to be a “digital native.” And, if you are an educator, it may indicate that there is a vast disconnect between your world and the world of the students you teach.

This digital divide between students and teachers can mean the difference between success and failure for students during their school years and beyond, which is why drafters of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 incorporated specific instructional technology initiatives into the legislation.

It’s no secret that technological advances are quickly changing the world, but are the NCLB requirements and the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) recommendations truly causing change in schools? Are the professional development needs of teachers and the learning needs of students being met? Are students learning to use technology and using technology to learn? Are teachers still learning to use technology or have they begun to successfully integrate technology into a standards-based curriculum? And finally, is it possible that professional development initiatives are meeting the unrelenting demands being placed on schools as a re­-sult of NCLB and technological advances?


Since 2001, school leaders have been working to understand NCLB initiatives and to implement programs and professional development to meet NCLB mandates, while taking full advantage of funding and grant resources. Due in part to NCLB, technology use by teachers is no longer optional. Some districts have created specific programs within their schools to address requirements related to instructional technology use and integration. In fact, performance-based technology tasks are being used across the country to ensure that teachers possess a common vocabulary and essential instructional tech-nology skills.

Show Us What You Know

In several Kansas districts, including Haysville Unified School District 261 and Maize Unified School District 266, proficiency tasks provide a foundation to help ensure that all teachers have the basic skills needed to move to the integration level. In these districts, teachers have access to technology and are able to use it to improve student achievement.

Sherry Goodvin, director of instructional technology for suburban Maize USD 266 in South Central Kansas, believes teachers have reached the tipping point with regard to technology integration. “Teachers are beginning to realize that proficient use of technology coupled with good instructional strategies produces engaged students who want to learn,” Goodvin says. “Technology proficiency tasks for teachers help us gauge where we are and address areas of need.”

Marsha Beard, assistant superintendent for Maize USD 266, agrees: “Professional development is delivered utilizing a variety of technologies and applications, and when best practice is modeled as a part of the teachers’ learning, a seamless connection is made with regard to their own classroom delivery of technology-integrated instruction.”

Lexington County School District 1 in Lexington, S.C., has committed to a five-year project requiring all certified staff to pass significant demonstration technology assessment programs.

“We believe strongly that professional development in the technology standards area is key to making students productive in the 21st century. At the end of last year, we had 100 percent of the staff — over 1,500 folks — certified as technology competent on our assessment,” says Wayne Brazell, Lexington CSD 1’s assistant superintendent for instruction. “We have a technology integration specialist — a certified teacher with excellent technology skills — in every school to train teachers and administrators. This training has created a situation where we can’t meet the demand of the teachers asking for better technology to teach.”

The Right Direction

With many high-quality resources available and because of countless committed educators working together to bring about changes in our schools and better help prepare our students to compete in the new global economy, we are moving in the right direction.

And, just in case anyone is still working to convince teachers, board members, patrons, administrators and political leaders that there is an urgent need to fund and support professional development that prepares teachers to effectively use technology, regardless of NCLB mandates, consider again the terms blackboard, cut, paste and print.

Are we truly leaving children behind by not embracing a new, more digital translation of our schools and their world?

Tools to Help Get Teachers Tech Literate

  • Level of Technology Integration Project. The corporately funded LoTi project began offering free resources in July for U.S. public and private schools. To learn more, go to www.loticonnection.com/index.html.
  • Intel Teach to the Future. This professional development program can help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms to enhance learning. More than 2 million teachers in more than 30 countries have participated in the program. It’s part of the Intel Innovation in Education initiative to collaborate with educators and government leaders worldwide in helping prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s demands. For more information, visit www.intel.com/education.
  • State Education Technology Directors Association. Founded in 2001, SETDA’s goal is to improve student achievement through technology. To access National Leadership Institute toolkits and learn more about other SETDA resources, go to www.setda.org.

Lisa Cundiff is director of instructional technology for Haysville Unified School District 261 in Haysville, Kan.

<p>Photo Credit: MIKE HUTMACHER</p>