Sunday, April 1, 2012

Changing Learners, Changing Methodologies

The following is a guest post by Danielle McCartan.  Danielle is a foreign language teacher at Ramapo High School in NJ and currently enrolled as a graduate student at the College of NJ.  This is being posted with her permission.

Society has evolved from the days of the infamous phone call: “Hi, did you get my e-mail?”  Push notifications take care of that problem.  RSS feeds are delivering handpicked news stories directly to people.  Now, documents are put online, where they are live, and anyone with permission has the ability to edit them, each keystroke recorded and color-coded for future reference.  Families, relatives, and friends, separated by oceans, can converse with each other in real-time with a video feed, for free, using Skype.  Technology is evolving, as are our lives.

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Though I am not too far removed from high school, students today are very different than they were even six years ago, when I was a senior.  High school students are glued to their cell phones, they video chat with each other when they go home from school, they watch television while using their laptops and their smart phones, and they can chop up, edit, and produce a video in under an hour. I fit in this category: “today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV” (Prensky 1).  When questions in casual conversation arise, they can easily be answered in about 3 seconds – the time it takes to perform a search on Wikipedia on a smart phone.
Two new terms have emerged: Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.  Digital Natives are people that have grown up using all sorts of technology whereas Digital Immigrants are those who have to learn to use different technologies.  This differential is causing a split among educators.  The Great Divide is especially apparent in high schools across America. “‘Every time I go to school I have to power down’ complains a high-school student” (Prensky 3).  This phenomenon happens in schools all around the United States on a daily basis.  Why? Historian Peter Cochrane has a viable answer: “Imagine a school with children that can read and write, but where there are many teachers who cannot, and you have a metaphor of the Information Age in which we live” (Mundorf).
American schools are falling behind worldwide and a major reason for this is because its teachers are becoming archaic.  Technological advances are leaving many American teachers in the dust.  In the age we live, students should not be required to ‘power down’ upon entering the classroom. “Today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” (Prensky 1) and teachers need to devise ways to embrace technology, not be afraid of it.  They need to let go of the mindset of: “this is how I learned it.  This is how I’m going to teach it”.  Chances are, in this Information Age, those methodologies are outdated.  “[It is not] that Digital Natives can’t pay attention, … they choose not to” (Prensky 3) and by using old methodologies, teachers run the risk of being “tuned out” by their students.
The top medical schools in the United States are combating the change in contemporary students. They are adapting their curricula to fit the needs of their changing learners.  “Today, the curriculum at American medical schools is undergoing its greatest change in a generation” (Pink 77).  It is easy to plug a patient’s symptoms into a computer and have it generate a list of diagnoses.  At Columbia University Medical School, future practitioners are now being trained in ‘narrative medicine’ to compliment the power of computer diagnostics (Pink 77).  Even more cutting-edge, and in addition to their normal coursework, students at the Yale School of Medicine have to study paintings.  This “smart curriculum” holds the belief that “students who study paintings excel at noticing subtle details about a patient’s condition” (Pink 77).  Who would have thought?  When will the administrative trickle-down theory reach mainstream public education?  Teachers must be proactive.
It is easy to get lost in the virtual world of apps and websites; therefore, instead of having information and technology overload, teachers must thoroughly research and plan, in advance, to use different technologies. “As educators, we need to be thinking about how to teach in the language of the Digital Natives” (Prensky 4).  Teachers must plan to integrate technology piece-by-piece into their classrooms.
That is why I am planning on and using Edmodo in my classes.  Edmodo is a social network, strongly resembling Facebook, built by the creator of LinkedIn and the senior vice president of product management at Facebook, specifically for the education field.  Its privacy settings are strong and it “has emerged as the engine in the classroom for content sharing, collaboration and assignments” (Guynn). 
Both my students and I are familiar with the layout without even having to explore it too deeply.  Initially, I plan on using Edmodo as a homework tool.  Instead of giving students mindless worksheet exercises to complete for homework, where they have to wait until the next day to receive feedback and can easily copy off each other, I am planning on using the quiz function on Edmodo.  I plan on transforming these worksheets into an online-quiz, where students can receive instant feedback about what they are doing wrong and why. 
In one of my Italian classes, I have a clothing unit coming up.  I am planning on assigning students a “long-term” (week-long) homework assignment in which they will respond to my video prompt asking them to describe their clothing with a video of them rummaging through their closets, using the vocabulary to describe articles of clothing.  Students will post a video response via Edmodo.
A goal of all world language educators is to have students use the language outside of the forty-two minute period within the four classroom walls.  Edmodo facilitates this contact.  In the Edmodo interface, there is a selection called Badges.  Teachers are allowed to assign badges to students for any different reason, but I plan on awarding “SMS Badges” to students that communicate with each other via (appropriate) text messages and upload the conversations to Edmodo.
Studies show that “students with smart phones study more than students without” (Flacy).  There is also a free Edmodo app that students can use on their smart phones (even I have downloaded it!). Students can mupload (mobile upload) pictures, post videos, and even complete their homework on-the-go.   Hopefully, students will start posting things to our class’ Edmodo group on their own – without me telling them to.  Imagine that!
Psychologist Jean Piaget states: “The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done” (Mundorf). It is the role of the teacher, who must be up-to-date and well versed, to utilize cutting-edge technology to teach the Digital Natives in their classrooms.  Students should not have to turn off and stow their devices for the duration of a class period.  There are many great resources available, but I believe Edmodo has it all.  Its social networking interface and app are tools that students are using daily.  Why shouldn’t they be using this in the classroom?  This echoes a sentiment from John Chapin: “We can no longer afford to educate today’s students for tomorrow’s world with yesterday’s schools” (RTC Handout). There is a major paradigm shift occurring.  The American education system must stay ahead of the curve to produce the most capable world citizens.

Works Cited

Mundorf, J. Universal Design for Learning:  Reaching all learners in the digital age. Randolph,    
     Regional Training Center.

Flacy, M. (2011, December 3). Study: Students With Smartphones Study More Often. 21st          
     Century Fluenct Project.  Retrieved from:   

Guynn, J. (2011, December 8). “Edmodo, Facebook for classrooms, lands $15 million, top           
     advisors”. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from:               lands-

Pink, Daniel H. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York:    
     Penguin Group.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.


  1. The Piaget quote at the end says it all.

  2. Really appreciate Danielle's article. Brief straight forward and helpful (thanks for Edmodo) also thank You for the post. I translated this into Turkish which can be found here;

  3. Confident and strong position I support. Times are changing and what worked yesterday, doesn't work today. Isn't it a reason why education devaluated so much, why education became a market good, why students cheating became so popular? We lost the real goal of education. It's time to remember it again.