My mom is a high school history teacher. Her students start this week, just in time for the Democratic National Convention, and right on the heels of the Republican National Convention this past week. As has been her custom in past elections, her students can earn extra credits by watching and writing about the conventions and the upcoming debates.
She went through her lesson plans from four years ago, and realized she needed to change a few things. See, four years ago she told students they could catch speeches and debates live, on their DVR, by taping, or through the newspaper. Today, that lesson plan reads “live, DVR, or online sources like YouTube and news sites.” She realized that asking students in 2012 to pick up a physical paper or use a VCR would be met with blank stares. Students who miss a campaign event will just google for the speech, or catch debate highlights on YouTube. In just four years, two sources that many of her students would have used are just completely archaic!
In many ways this is a good thing. No one is dependent on getting a physical newspaper or remembering to set the VCR in order to get extra credit. At the same time, teachers like my mom have to be increasingly vigilant. They need to monitor the sources that students use online, making sure that a student doesn’t just lazily cite Wikipedia and call it a day. They need to be aware of what’s available for free online, and what might end up behind a pay wall. They need to be sure that students don’t copy or plagiarize, and they need to be sure students understand the difference between an opinion site and a news one.
There is so much information out there, and so many new ways to learn. Technology tends to creep up on us, but when you look back at what life was like even just four short years ago, you realize how fast our digital world is truly moving! Maybe someday that old chestnut about walking uphill both ways in the snow will be replaced with stories about the 50lbs of textbooks we used to carry, and the grimy, inky newspapers we needed to read to earn extra credit!