Amid my many ISTE 2016 highlights, ISTE revealed their updated student standards. It had been nine years since ISTE had made changes, but this new set of standards goes well above a “freshening” of language. In a multitude of ways, these new standards underscore the fundamental shift that has started to happen, and needs to continue, where students are becoming the ones to drive content, classrooms are becoming hubs of active engagement, and teachers are shifting into mentoring and curating roles. The transformative changes are being enables by technology because tech allows students and teachers the chance to do things in a typical classroom that were never possible before. For instance, an iPad or a Chromebook allows any user to become a global researcher, an author, and a publisher. Students can pursue a passion, learn about it from some of the most accomplished experts, compose their own realizations and insights about the topic, and then share those with the entire world. Doing that most certainly has more impact then walking to the school library to read a few paragraphs in an encyclopedia so one can handwrite those ideas into a few paragraphs that no one other than the teacher will read.
The new ISTE standards are replete with opportunities for students to become active, engaged participants in authentic, meaningful experiences — locally and globally, but for that to happen, teachers and schools need to let go of some levels of control. And, they need to understand that becoming more student-centered will likely mean school is a messier, more chaotic experience. Of course, it is those very factors that will make each student’s education more genuine and realistic. The next two to three years will be both fascinating and telling as more and more schools confront the situation. The last hundred years of education, at least in the United States, have been steeped in the mindset that the teacher is the “expert” and “knower of all things important.” But, that definitely has not been absolutely “true” for the last twenty years (if it were ever the complete “truth” in any classroom) because easy access to the internet has meant that anyone in the room can find vital facts and information with a simple search. Instead of trying to cling to those old beliefs, we need to find ways to help teachers let go and recognize that it is impossible today to be the sole “expert” in any classroom.
Even though I am a technology coordinator who knows and embraces that reality, I find myself daunted by the consequences of it. When I am the center of the learning, I have significantly more control over what students can and cannot do, my room appears (and is) more orderly and contained, and the is much less risk that students will do something “wrong.” But, it is those exact reasons that I (and every other teacher) must make my classroom student-centered, especially if I want my students to succeed in the world they will face as the twenty-first century progresses. If each student’s education is contained and limited by what I allow, they will never learn to successful navigate the enormous volumes of information available to them, let alone cull from it what is best and most worthwhile. If order and control are the priorities in the room, a student’s education will be stunted tremendously because so little of our world today, especially in the digital realm, has any boundaries, and a vast majority of it a teeming sea of ever changing scenarios. Most importantly, students must be given the freedom to experience risk and failure not only because such things will make them more resilient, but also because so much more is learned from failing and having to reflect on its causes. Nonetheless, a student-centered, noisy, highly active classroom that embraces risk and failure opens a teacher to potential criticism and makes parents highly nervous.
In spite of those concerns, though, we all must plunge ahead if we want our students to succeed in the frenetic, hyper-digital, rapidly evolving world that seems to more a bit fast every moment we are in it. A dear friend, Jack “Wordman” Kreitzer, regularly shares his belief, “There is dignity in risk,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Let’s take these new ISTE standards for students, risk failure with wild abandon, and bask in the tremendous dignity that is sure to be there when we reach the other side.