What Do Instructional Natives Need to Know about Technology?

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Students seem to know how to do all kinds of things digitally. They can tweet and text. Email is so last decade. iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs offer so many ways to connect to friends, family and the world at large via the Internet. Anyone can sign up for a MOOC. Fifteen-year-olds are outlining educational approaches—on a Washington Post blog, no less. Education professionals might be wondering just where they fit in the world where information is readily available.

Just what can teachers and other education professionals do when digital environments make data and information* seemingly ubiquitous? What is their role, if there is one? Last week, the National Council of Teachers of English updated its policy statement titled The NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. What is notable about it is what is does not contain. There are no references to tools such as blogs or wikis. The word “computer” appears only once, and then only in the appendix. There is not a single reference to a SMARTboard or similar technology.

Rather, what is notable about this Framework is that is focuses on the dispositions of “Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society” (para 3). Verbs that characterize these 21st century outcomes include: design, create, develop, and manage. These verbs lend vibrancy to the technology and media students do and will continue to encounter even as the tools themselves continue to evolve (cf. Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004). One aspect of the Framework is one that has long fascinated me; though the Internet can bring volumes of information right to the desk of anyone with access, the real strength of the internet lies in how it brings people together in new ways across and within cultures, affinity groups, geographical regions, and more. The Framework emphasizes this aspect, too.

Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought.

This week, Project Tomorrow and BlackBoard, Inc. via the Speak Up National Research Project released a study exploring how those who want to be teachers are employing technology in their quest to become teachers and in their daily lives. The report also explores what aspiring or preservice teachers expect to encounter once they become teachers. The report delves into many nuances; however, here it is worth noting that though aspiring teachers use technology more than current teachers, they need and want models of how those technologies can be used in service of learning. Moreover, the principals for whom they might someday work hold high expectations that the new teachers entering the profession will be able to employ digital technology in service of learning.

The Project Tomorrow report continues to emphasize the problematic “digital native” metaphor (see last week’s post, for example); however, it does provide guidance for teachers who work with aspiring teachers including cooperating teachers in schools and teacher educators. Education professionals, as instructional natives, can help meet the needs of aspiring teachers and the demands of the 21st century, now well into its second decade. It is not necessary, or even realistic, to believe that any teacher, student, or teacher educator can “keep up” with every development on the technological horizon.

Some dispositions characterize instructional natives (Wolsey & Grisham, 2011) that may help:

• Teachers and teacher educators can use technology to assist them to better their own professional knowledge and connect with other educators.

• Teachers and teacher educators may not know how to use every tool available (and the secret is that neither do their students), but they can find online resources and ask their own students for help. Seeking the advice of students seems counterintuitive, at first, but I assert that this one quality is the hallmark of the 21st century instructional native.

• Teachers and teacher educators can trust their students to use media in responsible ways, with thoughtful guidance and questions from their teachers who are instructional natives.

• Teachers and teacher educators can and should regularly try out new technologies even if doing so is not quite comfortable at first.


Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K, Coiro, J. L., & Cammack, D. W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1580-1613). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Wolsey, T. D. & Grisham, D. L. (2011). A nation of digital immigrants: Four principles [online editorial]. The California Reader Online, 44(2), 1-9. Retrieved from http://tdwolsey.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/vol44no2_digitalimmigrants_11-05-10.pdf

* For an interesting discussion of the difference between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom, read:
Stewart, T. (1997). Intellectual capital: The new wealth of organizations. New York: Doubleday.


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