Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The digital experience is all the rage now and people talk about there being two kinds of populations of users:  a) digital natives – mostly the younger generation who have grown up with technology and the internet and who have organically lived with it as part of their day-to-day experience. They know and understand how to use it and how it works.  And, b) digital immigrants – mostly those of the “older generations” ; those of us who came to it later in our lives as it became more prevalent in society and daily usage.

I am a digital immigrant. In fact, I just recently got off the boat!

While, there is clearly a huge reality gap between learning about technology and being a real immigrant to a country, I can’t help but think about my parents’ immigrant experience as a metaphor.  Like my parents who arrived on these shores in the previous generation and were strangers in America, I too sometimes feel like a stranger in this new world of technology.  I’m trying to learn the language (I know some  words and phrases to get me by) , I’m navigating the social and cultural ways  of this new society, and I’m trying to figure out how I fit in. Thanks to the Avi Chai foundation I had an opportunity to chip away at that last week at the ISTE conference in San Diego.

My school is going through a similar experience.  That is, we are a young institution only now entering this new world of technology.  We’re just learning the new language and finding our way in this new world. We’re beginning to seriously explore how we can use technology to support the kind of teaching and learning that we do in our school.  I know there are many other schools out there who share this reality. Schools who have watched technology and the digital workplace explode but who haven’t yet fully joined in, either because they weren’t prepared or didn’t have the staff members or leadership ready to invest in this new language and life style.

At my school we understand that the time has come. None of us can any longer afford to sit on the side lines and watch our students live digital lives without both joining them and stepping in to guide them.

I came to ISTE this week with many questions and walk away having answered some and generated others. The good news is that I’m slowly finding my way around this new world and learning to ask more pointed questions, and beginning to recognize the questions I still need to ask and conversations that I still need to have.  I’ve shared many of these thoughts with my fellow ISTE participants last week over dinner and many offered suggestions. To those of you out there in the blogosphere: I welcome your input as well. I’m hoping to learn from many of you. 

The operative question for me, at this point, is how do I help my staff come along on this immigrant journey with me and my leadership team colleagues.  My school is a young institution, thankfully already with a culture of active learning, differentiation, and reflection.  At faculty meetings and in professional conversations we’re already talking about how to structure our classrooms and design our curricula and programs in ways that engage students according to their needs, offer kids choice in their learning, and involve collaboration and authentic audiences.  Our teachers are already “guides on the side” (as opposed to the “sage on the stage”) and direct their students through constructivist exercises, inquiry and projects. But, for the most part, we don’t fully understand technology nor are we yet taking advantage of the very real potential that technology has to extend our kids’ learning experience.  Yes, we have a handful of Smartboards and a library of laptops, but we use them in pretty limited ways.  A few teachers know how to use the Smartboard and our laptops are used mostly for word processing and searching the internet.  I walk away from ISTE with the recognition that technology can support , enhance and extend the kind of active learning that we already do in our school. But how do I help my staff (and myself) get there?

We are a small school and don’t yet have the budget for an Educational Technology Coordinator to introduce and lead our motivated staff through this “immigrant experience.”  I’m still working through how I, an immigrant myself, can lead my colleagues through this new experience.  I’m looking to you,  fellow educators already familiar with, and committed to,  technology and the active learning it supports, to guide me in integrating it more into my school and helping my teachers maximize this active learning.  I welcome your input and look forward to hearing what has worked for you.

Gary Pretsfelder
Head, Elementary School
Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan


Yaffa Malashock said...

I have enjoyed reading your post and I fully understand what you talking about. I teach Hebrew Language both at a Jewish Day School and Online at a university. You can take a look at my website that might be helpful in getting to know how to use the technology available in greater depth in our teaching.

My blog address is:



Yaffa Malashock

Anonymous said...

Use your students--let them have the experience of teaching their teachers. And reach out to their parents. There must be some with technological proficiency who would be willing to share their expertise.