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Integrating the work environment of the 1990s into today's classrooms.

Integrating the Work Environment of the 1990s into Today's Classrooms

To fit the workplace of the 21st century, American industry hopes to recruit a new kind of worker, one who is eminently trainable. These workers will not need to know everything up front--nor will they be expected to. Instead, they will come with skills that make them good learners. Those skills will include:

* a strong grounding in basic skills, including oral and written communication skills, plus practical math, estimation and computational skills;

* the ability to cope with new technologies and the use of technology as a tool to achieve organizational goals;

* the ability to take responsibility for learning;

* the ability to promote learning on the part of peers and colleagues;

* the ability to work cooperatively in a high-performance team environment; and

* the ability to deal with fluid, evolving and ambiguous situations in which problems must be solved given little time and using incomplete information and experience.

Workers of this calibre will not just magically pop out of nowhere. They will only emerge from classrooms in which they have spent yeas practicing and refining the necessary skills.

Teachers as Leaders

What this means to teachers is that we have entered an era in which their roles must change significantly. Not something under anyone's control, these forces for change are impersonal, pervasive and societywide.

But although change is inevitable, all teachers should be given the opportunity to control the direction and pace of change in their own classroom and own career. Furthermore, each teacher should have the opportunity to become a leader--a visionary, a scout, a champion--for change that improves the quality of their working environment, makes them more successful in teaching their students, and elevates their status in the eyes of their community and the educational establishment.

Multimedia Offers Opportunity

Fortunately, technology itself is offering teachers this opportunity by redefining the curriculum they are required to teach. In this decade, curricular "knowledge" will be transformed as the publishing, broadcasting and communication industries converge toward a common digital standard. Knowledge "carriers" that were once quite separate--radio, TV, motion pictures, telecommunications, magazines, newspapers, data processing and the performing arts--will converge and overlap. Out of this will emerge new hybrid representations of curicular knowledge--through multimedia publishing, multimedia data processing, and so on.

At the samt time, new multimedia-oriented products will become available to individuals as new tools for personal communication. The scope of desktop publishing is already expanding to include "documents" that combine photographic images, human voices, music, sound effects, full-motion video and computer graphics, as well as words and numbers.

Teachers who embrace this technology early have a unique opportunity to become pioneers in a remarkable new learning environment in which students can reconstruct knowledge in a multimedia format. Thus, today's "talk and text" classroom environment will evolve into an exciting, studio-like arena in which student producers create curricular videos, electronic slide shows, video book reports, infographics, multimedia term papers and a multitude of other materials. Difficult, dry areas of the curriculum will come alive as students translate them into vivid multimedia presentations.

Do-It-Yourself Platform

Educators who see the possibilities for student-produced multimedia learning don't have to wait for some far-off future. They can begin now. They can bring the multimedia publishing environment of the 21st century into today's classroom. With a little bit of creativity, educators can assemble a multimedia learning center from individual components scavenged from equipment already found at most schools.

Teachers are ingenious improvisers and scanvengers and they can use these skills to work with their students and track down everything they need. Such equipment may include a personal computer, a VCR, a TV, video camera, an audio tape recorder, a videodisc player, a record player, and an electronic keyboard. Put together correctly, this equipment can form a multimedia platform capable of publishing video biographies, multimedia science projects, electronic field trips and all sorts of other innovative and exciting presentations.

Sharing Responsibility

None of thise will happen, however, unless teachers share some of the responsibilities for teaching and learnings with their students. A multimedia learning environment facilities this approach because everyone learns from each other.

Under this environment, a teacher acts as a process and knowledge specialist. Students, especially at early ages, are particularly handy around new technologies and at figuring out ingenious ways to explore critical subjects in the curriculum using those technologies. Working together within this new learning environment, teachers and students become team of "knowledge explorers" who translate textbook knowledge into new, exciting multimedia presentations.

If education is going to succeed at preparing students for the workdplace of the 1990s and beyond, its administrators and teachers must create an environment resembling that workplace--and technology is only one ingredient. Opportunities comprise the rest of the equation--opportunities for students to take responsibility for their own learning and to become producers of their own knowledge. Students must spend time working in collaborative teams and be put into situations where they can explore, muck around, and think critically and cooperatively in order to solve problems and accomplish tasks.

Such a classroom models the work environment of the future, and in it teachers have a dual role--as leaders of and as collaborators with their students.

Fred D'Ignazio has created the multimedia classroom described in this article at the Teacher Explorer Center (TEC), a teacher training center located in East Lansing, Mich. Serving as a Model Classroom of the Future for the state of Michigan, which is expanding the center next year, TEC will also serve as a "buddy" for a similar program in the Detroit Public School district during the 1990/91 school year.
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Author:D'Ignazio, Fred
Publication:T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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