The profile of learners today has little in common with students of the past, and as a result requires teachers to develop new approaches to teaching.
There are very few children who are not technically savvy and adept at using numerous gadgets and resources, since they are integrated into their everyday lives. Students have grown up with sophisticated smart cell phones; cable and dish television access; internet 24/7; complex video games on multiple devices; iPods and iPads giving access to podcasts and centuries of digital media; and the ability to use high-definition photography and videography to document just about anything.
Students today are amazing "digital natives," presenting themselves as having higher proficiencies in technology through an ever-widening variety of devices.
Today, students have a desire for useful and pragmatic real-life experiences and projects that have importance in the real world. They have a real drive to understand the relevance of what they are learning as a result of having unprecedented exposure to global events and trends. Students are asking to understand the connectivity of subjects and issues prompted by living in a world of instantaneous communication connecting them to others.
These students are accustomed to fearlessly jumping into the use of new technology without reading directions or manuals; finding solutions to problems with ease online; achieving complex levels in video games through trial and error; and depending on information found in the cyber world as the truth.
There is no doubt that students today are extremely different learners than educators have had to deal with in the past.
Teachers in the past were accustomed to being the keepers and dispensers of information as "sages on the stage" and held reign over classes based on their superior knowledge. As access to information and data has become open to students of all ages, teachers are now transformed into facilitators. They must assist students in evaluating sources, analyzing data and creating comprehensive understandings of information at more complex levels.
Teachers are faced with demonstrating the relevance of content and methodology, so students see and understand how what they are learning is relevant and will impact their future lives.
Schools are offering unprecedented real-life experiences through projects, trips and internships that underline what is happening in the "real world."
As I visit classrooms on a daily basis, I am astounded to see students researching topics at levels that were previously limited to college studies in the past. Over the past few weeks, I observed sixth-graders exploring the in-depth dynamics of plate tectonics in the causation of varied types of earthquakes in specific areas of the globe. Juniors were taking photographs of sun spots and solar flares and attempting to predict the impact of solar activities upon radio waves and cell phone reception. I saw students working on identifying and creating data on celestial objects for the NASA database with the requirement to report their findings to the American Astronomical Association. Third-graders were exploring the climatic changes in varied biomes and environments with impact on the flora and fauna. Students in kindergarten were evaluating the size of animal enclosures in varied zoos and questioning the management of zoos based upon the habitats they have created for specific species of animals.
Students are taking greater responsibility for their own self-directed education. Their education has become more research-driven and aimed at outcomes that go well beyond the student work of the past.
Teachers and students are co-learners utilizing the technology and multimedia resources at their command within interdisciplinary projects.
The landscape of education is being changed by the very nature of the types of students entering our schools, their passion for exploring the real world and the evolving skills of educators to facilitate this change in the learning process.