Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Technology and Digital Media Impact: Considerations for Leadership Preparation in K-20 Education

Angela Elkordy,
Doctoral Candidate
Eastern Michigan University, Dept. of Leadership and Counseling

       Although “technology integration” has been a prominent goal in many educational environments, significant challenges remain to the consistent implementation and meaningful application of instructional technologies. Significantly, learner preferences shaped by participation in a digitally-mediated world are often-overlooked in the process of curriculum development as well as in planning of instruction delivery and learning environments. There are substantial ramifications for educational leaders resulting from the new, rapidly evolving skill sets and competencies necessary for the knowledge-economy workplace; to be effective in the shifting educational landscape, leaders must leverage learners’ new strengths to develop effective learning tools, objectives and environments.

Technology has irrevocably transformed society:

       As a result of Internet and communications technologies (ICT), the way in which much of the world lives, communicates and conducts business has been transformed. In the developed world, these changes are structural and pervasive, transforming practices and paradigms. Internet-mediated communications, for example, foster interactions across time and distance via texting, VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) enabled communications, smartphones, email, social networking sites or messaging, in addition to a myriad of other conduits such as video, chat and conferencing.   The use of digital media and ICT has altered societies on every level: health care, business models, knowledge acquisition activities, education and social interactions – including the meaning and context of global citizenry - which are now in continuous motion on global platforms.
In fact, because the Internet has become almost synonymous with societal, economic and even political growth, some leaders believe access to the Internet is so critical that it is regarded as a “human right” by the United Nations:

[We] declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  (World Summit on the Information Society, 2003)

Technology has irrevocably transformed the workplace:

       One of the realms most impacted by digital media and ICT is the work place. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the manufacturing sector in 1967 accounted for 54% of the U.S. economic output whereas by 1997, this was surpassed, at 64%, by information products (Partnership, 2008). Davidson, citing research on the future workplace by the U.S. Department of Labor suggested: “ by one estimate, 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet” (Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention will Transform the Way we Live, Work and Learn, 2011).

       An outcome of this trend has been a parallel shift in the skill sets and competencies necessary for workers to function in what is now, effectively, a global marketplace made possible by digital communications and Internet technologies. Researchers and policy makers are advocating for a diverse new range of skills and dispositions including the abilities to be creative, innovative and in the European Union, “entrepreneurial thinking” is advocated as a necessary new skill. As a result, forward thinking educational researchers, policy makers and educators have recognized a definitive shift in necessary basic competencies (often called “literacies”) critical for U.S. competitiveness. This has obliged educators and others to consider new ways of teaching to prepare learners to thrive in a largely unpredictable 21st century workplace.

Technology has irrevocably altered the environments of youth:

       Not surprisingly, our students have been profoundly impacted growing up in a digitally-mediated world, in large part due to the amount of daily media and ICT-related exposures which are increasing. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 8-18 year olds spend more than 10:45 hours per day exposed to various types of media  (TV content, computers, music/audio, print, movies, video games). This amount of exposure has increased in the past decade from 7:29 hours in 1999. In addition, over 25% of this time is spent “multitasking”, engaging in more than one media simultaneously.

       Students today have definite preferences in learning as a direct result of this media immersion; according to the Kaiser study, 81% of teens use media at least “a little” of the time or more while doing homework. Furthermore, they have definite preferences in communication modes and styles. A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life reported: “Texting is by far the most popular way for teens to communicate. While 63% of teens say they text every day, only 39% said they make calls on their phones on a daily basis or send messages through social networking sites (29%). In addition, 35% said they socialize face to face outside of school” (Teens, Smartphones and Texting, 2012).

Technology has irrevocably altered how we learn:

       Considering the extent of media and Internet immersion, it’s not surprising that the preferred learning modes, methods of transmission, and learning styles of our students, particularly teens and young adults, differ significantly from previous generations’.  Accustomed to being entertained and engaged, many students carry this expectation into the classroom and at the very least, expect that to learn in a similarly engaging and interactive manner. As digital devices have become increasingly mainstreamed and used by  young children, users expect, and are usually rewarded, by intelligent design which is intuitive and easily discerned.  As a result, the

digital generation has adopted a mindset of rapid-fire-trial-and-error learning. They’re not afraid of making mistakes because they learn more quickly that way. They operate under the strategy of useful failure …..while people of our generation are under the assumption that all failure is bad and help comes from an expert or a book. (Understanding the Digital Generation, 2011).

       Students’ learning and communications styles and expectations have profound influence on the development of instructional programs. These changes in the learning landscape are all too often overlooked, misunderstood, or not taken into account by educators. It is critical that educators are aware of the existence of digital age learning preferences regardless of technology use, or not, in the learning space. For example, digital age learners prefer the flow of information to be non-sequential and streamed from multiple, linked sources. Exposed to vast quantities of media and data from an early age, digital learners are often critical consumers of information and they are comfortable with large quantities of data in rapid succession. Young adults, in particular, are often active in online communities where information is crowd-sourced and verified, such as Wikipedia.

       Digital age learners have a strong preference for visual learning, tending to process media before text. They expect learning to be engaging and interactive, relevant, authentic and motivating. As the volume of free, increasingly more reliable information is readily available online, there has been a distinct shift in information seeking behaviors which has rendered the necessity of remembering large quantities of information irrelevant. Instead, just-in-time learning is now more often appropriate, where information is retrieved as needed to solve authentic problems. Stylistically, the presentation of the overall concept or problem first is key to these learners; that is, information and inquiry in context leading to situational learning opportunities.

       In terms of strategy, digital age learners tend to prefer extensive integration of digital technologies and tools and for collaborative work (especially digitally-mediated). Furthermore, there is a strong preference for peer assisted, problem solving, inquiry-based and discovery kinds of learning which are embedded in a meaningful context (which is why game-based learning has become so effective in some environments).
An extremely important trend is the significant amount of learning which is occurring in informal environments ; this learning is primarily interest driven and self-motivated, occurring through technology-mediated environments such as social media and other networks. It is highly social and participatory in nature.

        As the concept of digital media technologies for learning matures, new models of learning and assessment are emerging to inform curriculum and instruction. Some of these ideas support the idea of school reform, and others complement it; for example, the Connected Learning Model  (, which includes important socio-cultural factors of effective learning environments such as participatory learning, connectivity  as well as individual factors, such as individual  “interest”  or motivation (D. Hickey, personal communication, August 19, 2012).

       Emerging in response to the need for life-long learners to communicate newly acquired proficiencies and skills to employers and other interested audiences, is the “new” concept of Digital Badges and micro credentialing. As the quality and amount of free digital media resources increases, matched with the availability of portable digital devices, learning can, and does occur anywhere and at any time. Much of this learning focuses upon skills which are urgently needed in the workplace, but because they are not taught in formal environments, they are currently neither assessed nor acknowledged.  The concept of digital badging has the potential to “disrupt” higher education; Arne Duncan, U. S. Secretary of Education recently described the use of badges as a “game changing strategy. “ (Duncan, 2012).

Technology and schools… in transition:

       K-20 Educational institutions are changing, slowly, as the ramifications of digital media and ICT technologies have become firmly entrenched in other environments.  As with most diffusion patterns of innovation, there are pockets of success and notable failures. Online learning, once an innovative, emerging method of instructional delivery, has now become main-streamed with both K-12 and higher education offering classes entirely in cyberspace.

       Despite the significant “integration of technology” in teaching and learning as well as administration, practicing educators, for the most part, lag behind in understanding. It is imperative that school leaders be moderately technically adept, and critical that they understand the possibilities and limitations of technologies. For example, so many technology initiatives fail because of the well-meaning vision of “technology integration” which fails to match learning theory with the practical application of technologies as pedagogical tools. Without this understanding, leaders risk failure and irrelevance, wasting resources and demoralizing colleagues.

Implications for Educational Leadership Faculty
Technology has the potential to leverage teaching and instruction:

       Innovative technologies which could be applied in educational contexts are being developed at a rapid pace. In the past 2-3 years, advances have been made in hardware, personal digital devices, and digital media and software. Many of these technologies are already in use in business and industry contexts. The implementation of these technologies lags behind for a variety of reasons but one of the most pervasive challenges is the knowledge and skill sets of the educators in the field. The U.S. Department of Education suggests that more attention should be directed to adequately preparing pre-service and in-service teachers, providing them with:

professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling assignments for students that improve learning, assessment and instructional practices…… technology should be used ….to engage and motivate them in what and how they teach. (National Educational Technology Plan, 2010)
       The New Media Consortium in collaboration with the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), reports on emerging technologies in education and challenges for the educational community. In the annual Horizon Report, the consortium reports that one of the most significant challenges to effective technology use is inadequate teacher preparation to use emerging technologies:

….despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is rare in teacher education…..This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking [i.e. approaches and pedagogies] and thus skills and standards based upon tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral. (p. 15).

       Characteristic of quality leadership, modeling and mentoring are powerful strategies, and are critical to successful innovation diffusion in organizations. A leaders' knowledge and skills can make a tremendous difference in the degree of success in technology-related initiatives.  Educational leaders and faculty have the capacity as well as the responsibility, to confer knowledge of effective technology practices to teachers and school administrators. We can only teach what we know; this may be best accomplished, in an ever changing context, by creating communities of learners with a common vision to really understand not only the capabilities of technology and how they have changed the learning landscape, but also to be responsive to students’ needs.  When used appropriately technology tools can facilitate in powerful pedagogies; as our students lives are enmeshed in internet and communications technologies, we risk being irrelevant if we do not lead the wave of change.

Considerations for addressing the need for K-20 teacher and administration preparation programs:
  • Knowledge and discourse on technologically-mediated learning and relevant theories, instructional practices and assessment
  •  Additional technology training and awareness for educational leadership and teacher preparation faculty
  • Training specifically for the complex and multifaceted change processes in implementing educational technology initiatives. For example, what kinds of support and leadership actions foster success?
  • Additional digital media and learning experiences in preparing pre service educators
  • More exploration and research on situated learning in technology-mediated learning in socio-cultural contexts (e.g. classrooms, professional development)

Please share your thoughts and comments. How do you think we can prepare educators for a digitally-mediated future?

Suggested resources:

21st Century Principal (blog):
Digital Media and Learning (web site):
ESchoolNews: Technology for Today’s K-20 Educator (publication):
Free Technology for Teachers (blog):

Brenner, J. (2012). Pew internet: Teens. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from
Carey, K. (2012). A Future full of badges. Retrieved August 15, 2012 from:
Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work and learn. New York, NY: Penguin Group
Duncan, A. (2011). Digital badges for learning: Remarks by Secretary Duncan at 4th annual launch of the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Lifelong Learning Competition. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from
Europa, Summaries of EU Legislation (2006).  Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning, Retrieved May 8, 2012 from:
Jukes, I., McCain, T. D. E., Crockett, L., 21st Century Fluency Project, & NetSavvy/Infosavvy Group. (2010). Understanding the digital generation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
Lenhart, A. (2012). Teens, smartphones and texting. Retrieved April 30, 2012, from
New Media Consortium. (2012). NMC horizon report: 2012 K-12 edition Retrieved May.20, 2012 from:
Prensky, M. (2003). Digital game-based learning. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 21-21.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills, (2008). 21st Century skills, education & competitiveness: A Resource and policy guide. Retrieved: February 16, 2012 from:
Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010).Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-to 18-year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved May 18, 2012 from:
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American education: Learning powered by technology. National Education Technology Plan. Retrieved May 15, 2012 , from 
World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva 2003- Tunis 2005, (2003). Declaration of Principles: Building the Information Society: a global challenge in the new millennium. Retrieved May 15, 2012 from:

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