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Inspiration and Motivation With Technology in the Midst of Constant Change

By Terry Atkinson
 | Jan 08, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-79320325_x300Each day tweets, blog posts, and other digital media suggest a myriad of new notions and emerging possibilities for digital teaching, thinking, learning, creating, and communicating in 21st-century classrooms. Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts our technological capabilities will frame the coming 25 years as one of the most exciting times in human history. This excitement, however, often loses its luster as teachers seek to integrate technology into their instructional practices with insufficient resources and aligned professional development.

What might be the factors or influences that encourage teachers to take risks involved not only to navigate the murky waters of technology integration, but also to put tech tools into the hands of their students? Across time and cultures, personal stories have transformed the minds, motivations, and actions of others. For this reason, our story of Maya offers inspiration and lessons learned for teachers with similar struggles. A fourth-grade teacher who sought to introduce her students to Web 2.0 research and publication, Maya persisted in challenging school administrative policies and was willing to learn to use an online publishing tool alongside her students (rather than teaching them how to use it), which were key factors leading to her successful efforts. Illustrating the evolution of emerging digital applications, the free online publication tool employed in her story was soon bought by a for-profit competitor.

So Maya and her students searched during the coming year for another online publishing option and their quest to navigate and publish together continued. However, the particular venue employed by this teacher and her students was not at the center of her story. Of greater importance was how Maya’s experiences aligned with guidelines for how teachers might use 21st-century literacies realistically in their classrooms, offered by eighth-grade teacher and framework guideline contributor, Sandy Hayes. They include the following:

  • Do the usual work in a different way: Take a project or assignment you already do and use one tool to give the project a digital twist.
  • Use the tools to learn: Don’t learn just to use the tools.
  • Engage in meaningful assessment: Assess the work against skills and content learning, not by the finished product.
  • Expect chaos: You are the nexus of chaos, so develop procedures to minimize the number of students clamoring for your help.
  • Expect Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong probably will.
  • Acknowledge your students as resources: You’ve heard the saying, “And the children shall lead you.” It’s truer than ever.

Meanwhile, as the spectrum of what was, what is, and what can be continues to broaden possibilities for literacy learners, motivated classroom teachers such as Maya persist and lead the way in implementing new literacies and pedagogies in schools. Savvy Media Education Lab professional developers such as Renee Hobbs are tuning into the power of such teacher motivations and how they shape digital learning. Using the Media Education Lab tool What’s Your Motivation?, made available via Powerful Voices for Kids, teachers gain better understandings of how their attitudes about and motivations for digital learning have an impact on instructional practices. Cutting-edge professional development tools like these have the potential to harness technology capabilities of the coming quarter century, leading to literacy teaching and learning that may dazzle the likes of Ray Kurzweil in years to come.

Terry S. Atkinson is an associate professor in the Department of Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.

 This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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