Educating 21st-century teenagers

Maggie Campbell-Hunt
Maggie Campbell-Hunt
It's 2010 and today's teenagers are a uniquely built bunch.

Information technology has been with them throughout childhood and adolescence, and it's only going to have more and more of an influence as they transition into tomorrow's adults.

But how are today's adults taking to this change? Suddenly, with an attention span ruined by YouTube's several-second wonders, and standards skyrocketing for things fitting in the this-is-worth-my-time category, parents and teachers could be left dumbfounded by how to deal with these unpredictable creatures.

The trick is - speak their language.

Paul Enright, who teaches history and classics at Logan Park High School, is one of many trying to bridge this widening gap.

He uses Facebook to communicate with his year 13 classes outside of school, and says that the evolution of this has been wonderfully unexpected.

The Facebook page is used by teacher and students to address issues and uncertainties particularly in the lead-up to assessment deadlines.

Other teachers and past students have signed on and contributed, providing a wealth of knowledge for students to have at their fingertips.

Mr Enright was inspired to set up his Facebook pages by fellow Dunedin teacher Lara Hearn-Rollo, of Queen's High School, following discussions they'd had regarding the use of information technology to support learning.

It's a relatively new concept, but as a teacher he has a concern for students feeling frustrated or even defeated by tasks when it comes down to the wire.

It is a problem that has needed addressing, and it seems Facebook may be coming to the rescue.

Even better, this help is being provided through a familiar site that students are likely to be spending their evening on anyway.

Similar online interaction is available out of school hours through student portal Moodle or using Google Docs, but Facebook might just have the edge because of its existing popularity.

Mr Enright says: "There is a new learning community emerging that I had no expectation of, and that opens up all sorts of new potentials which I'm keen to explore."

Year 13 history student Bronwyn Wallace says that Mr Enright can be relied on to be online most nights, answering questions and posting useful information.

Recently, she found herself having a meltdown the day before an assignment was due, so she turned to the trusty Facebook page and asked for guidance.

Within 10 minutes she received a reply responding to her specific concerns and offering encouragement.

Peter Hills, assistant principal at Logan Park, is another person who is interested in this change.

He is currently working with other schools in Dunedin to set long-term goals for the use of technology in learning.

In his opinion, the change is a learning curve for many teachers, and the student voice will need to be a strong driving force behind it.

Teachers and students are now working collaboratively to create a revolution in education, as they test the waters of this new concept and achieve great things in the process.

Of course, technology is always evolving and its influence on life will continue to demand change.

No-one knows just what will happen - will books be left on shelves to gather dust? Are pens and pencils soon to be obsolete? Who knows? The classroom of tomorrow is something that's impossible to predict, but it'll sure be an interesting ride getting there.

By Maggie Campbell-Hunt
Year 13, Logan Park High School

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