Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in our everyday lives as well as the workforce. Recent studies predict that by the year 2010 almost every job in the American workplace will require some use of technology. This influx in technology has caused changes in the way the computer is being used in the workplace and in the way computer literacy needs to be taught in our schools.
When the personal computer was first introduced in the 1980’s, people had to learn how to operate it, program it, and utilize its basic functions. Today, people and businesses are becoming more familiar with technology and using it more as a tool for such things as information gathering, data analysis and interpretation, presenting information, problem solving, communication, etc. This technology is also continually being updated and changed to allow for more efficient and productive work, causing people to have to keep pace with this new information. In such a knowledge-based economy, knowing how to locate information quickly, evaluate this information for bias and accuracy, and synthesize and apply that information to solve problems will be needed and valued skills. Therefore, teaching students skills such as these will better prepare them for the workforce of the 21st century.
Simply providing students with technology in isolated computer classes will not teach students these necessary skills or how to use the computer as a tool. After all, the end result is not wanting students to simply know how to operate computers but how to use them as a tool for organization, communication, problem-solving, and research.
Technology needs to be integrated into the curriculum using an active/inquiry-based method of learning. In this method, instead of students being shown specific steps to follow to solve a problem and then solving problems from a textbook, they are given a “real world” problem to solve and must create their own strategies for data gathering, analyzing, hypothesizing and testing solutions. By constructing their own strategies, they gain a deeper understanding of problem-solving skills. By solving real world problems, students are better able to relate their learning to their own lives and similar future situations. Oftentimes the students work in groups to solve their problems which enhances students’ interpersonal skills and teamwork. They also learn to accept different perspectives, work cooperatively, and state their opinions and feelings. After all, few jobs require people to work in total isolation; therefore, being able to work with others is an important aspect of society and the workplace.
Students should be given a number and variety of technology resources to use in order to find a solution to their problem, such as internet resources or search engines, communication/email with experts, books, software programs, spreadsheet programs, graphing programs, etc. Students may also be required to conduct their own hands-on experiments or participate in online collaborative research. However, instruction should be given on how to analyze information for bias and accuracy. Students should realize that not everything on the internet is true or correct. Since the information is not merely presented to the students in a lecture format they are required to critically think about it, interact with it, analyze it, and use it to formulate a solution. This type of instruction enhances critical thinking and higher order thinking skills and helps students demonstrate a deeper understanding of the content and concepts presented as well as the problem-solving process.
Students should also have choices in how their information and solution is presented. Formats such as PowerPoint presentations, posters, brochures, pamphlets, reports, web pages, and movies created with technology can be utilized. Giving students a choice in their final presentations not only allows them to showcase their talents and strengths but allows students to make their own decisions about the best ways to present their data to others, which is oftentimes required in the workplace.
Incorporating technology into the classroom using an active/inquiry-based method enhances the skills required for success in the 21st century. It requires students to use the computer as a tool to gather information, analyze data, and present a solution to a given problem. These are the skills that the technology rich environments of today emphasize and require; therefore, using technology in this manner will aide students in developing life long skills that can be carried over to the workforce.