Not too long ago, I came across this fascinating piece. The article looks at how a high school teacher (Eddie Kim) and his students developed a business where they take classic texts and play them out in a video game format. If you click on the link, you can see some examples of their work and read about it further. They also have a website.
As I was reading the piece, I came across the following quote:
Despite his devotion to the classics, Sedlacek emphasizes the importance in letting them find new forms. “I don’t think it helps to act as if the classics occupy a sacred space isolated from the rest of culture. It’s better to allow these texts to be played with, to put them into conversation with the other media that make up our world.” He describes video game puppetry as a “postmodern mashup of old and new, high and low. Video games lend flair and fun, the stories lend wisdom and gravity. Together, they give the audience a chance to appreciate both for the unique feelings and thoughts they can evoke in us.”
This quote, along with the work that Eddie and his students have been doing, led me to the following question:
To what extent are teacher educators engaging educators in ways that allow them to do this king of work and/or develop the capacity to do so?
I’m not here to say that every teacher needs to learn how to translate the classics into a video game. What I am concerned about is how well we support teachers in developing the background knowledge and thinking abilities that allow them to engage their students in creative and new ways. I think doing so is going to require us to think very differently about teacher education. Specifically:
- We have to stop looking at things in silos, and we have to stop organizing classes that way.
- While my institution doesn’t offer a specific educational technology class in the programs I teach in, I could imagine that such a class isn’t unheard of. The masters program I teach in does offer a content area literacy course (how to help kids develop their abilities to read/write in the academic disciplines), and we use edtech tools in the course, but not in ways that merge and blend to the extent that Kim has done.
- I can see the argument for silos. If I teach a course in content area literacy, then (theoretically), it should allow me and my students to go in-depth into that topic. In reality it doesn’t. It allows for a superficial skimming. To be more in-depth the class would have to be more specific – like developing academic literacies in English/Language Arts for secondary students. This thought leads me back to…
- Making an argument for competency based education and getting rid of classes as the way we structure education – at least from the Masters level on – in teacher education. While such a model is not a guarantee of a better education, what emerges is the opportunity for students to create a plan of studies that allows them to go more in depth and overlap disciplines.
So you can see that my point here isn’t to argue that we need to add more classes or different classes because I think the existing model is limited and dated. What we need to do is find ways to help teachers think critically about content and the pedagogical techniques they use to employ that content. It’s not just a matter of learning content or learning tools. It’s how we think about them and employ them in our teaching.
In some ways, this requires a mindset shift from teachers at both the pre and in-service levels. All teachers want tools to address the issues they are facing and help their students learn. I get that – totally reasonable. But if you’re the teacher who shows up and wants to be handed a list of the best tools and how to use them – with the intention of pretty much just plunking them down into your instruction – then you have to make some changes. Now and then this mindset is ok and works fine, but it can’t be the default mode if you want to get to someplace as interesting, creative, and relevant as Kim has.
We Have To Engage With the Digital
The article discussing Kim brought home to me the importance of engaging with the digital in K-12 instruction. I consider myself to be someone who is relatively up to date on edtech issues and tools, and I am always interested in learning more. I work to infuse my courses with technology in ways that serve learning. I want the teachers I work with to learn tools in was that are useful and relevant to their learning of course content, but (ideally) they will gain insight into how to use those tools in their own classroom.
So how do we help teachers start to use digital tools in ways that extend and reshape what learning looks like in schools? I don’t have the answers here. I barely had suggestions. I only know that I look at what Kim does and I want to figure out how to help the teachers I work with acquire the skills they need in order to design experiences of that caliber.