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Teaching in the Age of Technology

I have been thinking a lot lately about generations.  The pace of progress in consumer technology has been so fast and its impact on our lives so pervasive that there is no question in parents’ minds that young people today are growing up in a dramatically different world.  What can be difficult to remember, however, is that this “world,” with its dizzying array of social media networks and instant access to information and feedback, feels quite different for each generation.  While their parents may feel overwhelmed by the endlessly expanding ways to stay connected and take in new ideas, for the most part children treat this as their natural habitat. 

The generational gap that has developed around these experiences is often invisible but has a quietly disruptive power that is often at the heart of arguments and disagreements about everything from videogames to homework to politics.  While it can be tempting to point to the more obvious manifestations of that gap (parents are often amazed at how their children seem to be able to fix computer problems effortlessly), the real differences have at their core less to do with actual technology and more to do with deeper ideas and values about knowledge and relationships.  The entirely new technological ecosystem that this new generation (often called the “Millennial Generation”) has grown up in has shaped the way they look at the world in deep and powerful ways that set them apart from their “Generation X” and “Baby Boom” parents. 

Consider, to start, how different this generation’s classroom experience is from their parents.  Most GenX / Baby Boom parents likely grew up attending schools where the classrooms looked roughly like this one:
While a cartoon, there is no mistake that the artist has drawn the teacher much larger than her students: she is at the center of the classroom experience in every way and it is a student’s job to take in knowledge from her in a straightforward one-way relationship.  The difference between that world and our Pacific Ridge Harkness classrooms is obvious and dramatic:
Our classrooms now are about free and equal exchange of ideas; student’s voices are deemed essential and the goal is to shape students as thinkers and communicators.  And, technology has allowed us to expand this vision beyond the classroom and into every aspect of the way students learn.  Consider some of the key differences that have arisen in thinking about education:
Each of these changes in the Millennial’s educational experience is becoming possible as a result of technological change.  At its core, though, these changes say more about what we value in teaching and learning than they do about any shiny new hardware or software.  Whether we use laptops or smartphones, YouTube or Skype, or any one of a thousand new devices or platforms that are entering the market every day, the fundamental ideas are the same.  Education is shifting towards embracing collaborative learning, teaching students to make the best possible use of their unprecedented access to information, and turning the craving for instant feedback into an effective learning tool.
While some of these shifts in educational thinking can be confusing, for the most part parents and teachers from Generation X applaud these shifts and the support they give to this Millennial generation.  What can be more difficult to understand, however, are some of the personal values that are also notably different between the two generations.  In general, most current research suggests that the following represent some distinct gaps, for better or worse, between the two:
As parents and educators, we love and applaud (and in many ways helped create) many of these Millennial values.  Raising a generation of young people who are so unabashedly collaborative, confident, and adaptable is and should be a point of pride.  And while we may sometimes wish that our children were more self-reliant, less fixated on instant feedback and social metrics, and more comfortable being alone, we can foster these values in other ways (our Global Programs at Pacific Ridge, for example, serve as an excellent source of this development).  In the end, generational forces have an inevitability to them – there is no way to turn back the clock and make Millennials into GenXers even if we wanted to.  Instead, the more we can acknowledge and embrace our differences the better we will be at supporting these young people as they develop into the amazing adults we know they will be.

Allegra Molineaux, Co-Head of Upper School & History