Losing STEAM: When Technology and Curriculum Collide
By Jessica Iovinelli
The skills necessary for 21st century society and the information age require that schools reevaluate their mission, vision and goals to reflect how they will prepare students for the demands of a world in which immediate access to droves of information has led to increased value placed on what the National Education Association calls the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Educational approaches that use Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) are pushing the learning capacity of students by focusing on inquiry, problem-solving, and innovation.
Because of the upswing of technological importance and the shift in education from the industrial model of mass production to the post-industrial focus on mass personalization, for many districts and schools, the response to integrating these skills has been through adding technology to the menu of initiatives, attempting to align usage with learning goals and targets as a way to impact teaching and learning. But good teaching is good teaching and without higher-level uses of technology, it becomes just another dusty book on a shelf. If the starting point is not the redefinition of goals of what we want learners to be capable of doing, technology is being added to an outdated paradigm of education.
Contributing to the difficulty of transitioning to meaningful technology integration is the idea that technology exists as a tool separate from curriculum and instruction and then treating it as such. Despite an influx of technology in classrooms, there is still a tendency to shy away from it as a way to facilitate learning, not only wasting precious resources, but also opportunities and potential. Though devices, tools, and procedures are likely to change and evolve with future technological advancements, priorities around student needs will not. Therefore, it is important to focus on technology in classrooms as a means for reaching learning and instructional goals for both staff and students.
Many districts have added a Director for Instructional Technology to their administrative roster to help with the integration of technology into existing practices. This role has a flexible definition dependent upon the needs of the district in which it is created and can often tie technology with pedagogy and content area into a larger framework of goals. But this role can also conflict with a Director or Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction role, creating organizational silos that further propel a growing gap between technology and teaching and learning. This is particularly true if there is an emphasis on following curricular programs with complete fidelity, leaving little room for risk-taking, experimentation, or incorporation of research-based technology frameworks such as the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition (SAMR) Model, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which focuses on seamless technology integration, as opposed to a separate content area, as a way to address 21st century themes.
Because each school has access to varying quantities and qualities of technology, current curricular programs do not rely on technology as a constant in their unit planning and instructional materials. This leaves the responsibility on the shoulders of the teachers to create the optimal learning materials that not only focus on content and pedagogy but also differentiation and student choice. In a district where curricular programs designate how and what to teach and where teachers have strict instructions to not deviate from pacing guides and outlines, technology becomes just another tool on a dusty shelf in the back of a classroom where its potential is left untapped. Yet in districts where the curriculum is not considered a “concrete thing” but rather an adaptive and flexible resource that can be personalized to meet the needs of each student as an individual, technology serves as yet another way to support teachers and students in a variety of situations, empowering learning and capturing the specific needs of the school or district aligned with their vision.
Some districts are counteracting this divide by restructuring administration to include positions such as the Assistant Superintendent or Director for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation as opposed to Curriculum and Instruction and Instructional Technology. But these positions can be difficult to fill as the job descriptions include both advanced knowledge of computer operating systems and curriculum and instruction. Though searching for candidates with this type of varied background may seem akin to searching for a needle in a haystack, the work is necessary in order to ensure the best possible outcome for teaching, learning, and high levels of student achievement.
Technology is a part of today’s society and our job as educators entails preparing students for the future. Due to its expensive nature, it is important to ensure that technology is utilized in a way that is worth the cost, as an investment in teaching and learning, rather than workstations and $300 pencils. This means integrating technology into schools as a valuable learning tool for individualized student growth, but also as a skill necessary for students and their future careers. Access to the Internet has had a transformational effect on how students learn, how educators educate and how leaders lead. It has provided immediate information with room for creation in ways unlike any past industrial revolution style teaching method. It supplies students with a variety of tools to match whatever the task at hand may be and allows for a deeper understanding of content, all while connecting with multiple learning styles and teaching 21st century skills. This means technology should not be viewed as a separate entity when it comes to curriculum and instruction, but rather as an integral part of teaching, learning and achievement. All the leaders, educators, students, parents and community members in a school district must come together to promote student growth and achievement and foster the skills that students will need to survive the 21st century and create lifelong learners.
About the Author
Jessica Iovinelli, Ed.S, is the Director for Instructional Technology at Elmwood Park CUSD #401 in Elmwood Park, Illinois. She is a critical thinker who can apply extensive industry knowledge to student-centered opportunities. Jessica has a reputation for establishing focus, providing motivational support, fostering teamwork and managing change while empowering others and focusing on communication.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum