Educational Technology Leadership Conference Helps Digital Immigrants Understand Digital Natives

By Mahoney, Lisa Coffey | Momentum, February/March 2007 | Go to article overview

Educational Technology Leadership Conference Helps Digital Immigrants Understand Digital Natives


Mahoney, Lisa Coffey, Momentum


Bay Area schools collaborate to design schools for the digital age

This fall, adult and student leadership teams from dozens of Bay Area elementary and high schools explored how their institutions might best achieve their missions using the tools of the digital age. The unique Educational Technology Leadership Conference was held at Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School Oct. 28.

The conference was planned by an association of technology leaders from Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), Bellarmine (San Jose), Bishop O'Dowd, Carondelet (Concord), Mercy (Burlingame), Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton), St. Francis (Mountain View), St. Ignatius (San Francisco) and Valley Christian (San Jose) high schools.

In addition, the conference was sponsored by the heads of these schools and De La Salle in Concord, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, Mercy in San Francisco and Presentation in San Jose. The superintendents of Catholic schools in Oakland (Mark Demarco), San Francisco (Maureen Huntington) and San Jose (Marian Stuckey) lent their enthusiastic support to this model of collaboration among schools and dioceses.

"[These leaders] agreed that we needed to come together to invest quality time on how to design schools for the digital age," O'Dowd High School President Steve Phelps said.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Marc Prensky, an internationally acclaimed speaker, writer, consultant and designer in the critical areas of education and learning. Phelps was intrigued after reading Prensky's feature article, "Listen to the Natives," published in the December 2005/January 2006 issue of Educational Leadership magazine.

In the article, Prensky said that educators need to engage students electronically, collaborate with students and give them a meaningful voice in school, ensure that the curriculum teaches 21st-century skills and knowledge and find a more flexible way of organizing schools.

"I thought he might be an excellent facilitator to help school leaders articulate a coherent vision for the future of education," Phelps said. So he contacted Prensky about the possibility of speaking at an Educational Technology Leadership Conference that was already in the planning stages and gained the endorsement of the Educational Technology Leadership Conference planning group (www.etlc.org).

Important to Embrace Technology

In April 2006, a group of school heads from the large Catholic and Christian high schools in the Bay Area met and endorsed the idea.

Phelps said that it was easy for school heads and principals and superintendents to collaborate on this conference, because the group has been working together on professional development, as well as on drug and alcohol education and policies, for their schools for nearly 10 years. More importantly, these school leaders understand the importance of embracing technology, Phelps said.

"They agreed that to achieve their missions in this complex time we needed to come together to invest quality time on how to design schools for the digital age," he said. "By bringing in a challenging and visionary person like Marc, we leveraged his experience and command of the subject."

The conference format included a presentation by Prensky, as well as student and adult breakout discussion sessions.

Prensky talked about leading and teaching "digital natives," students who have grown up with the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. "Today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach," Prensky said. "By the time a young person is 21, he or she will have played 5,000 to 10,000 hours on their video games, sent up to 500,000 e-mails and instant messages, spent 10,000 hours using their cell phones and 20,000 hours watching television, but less than 5,000 hours reading books."

Teachers, on the other hand, are "digital immigrants," Prensky said. He defined digital immigrants as those who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in life, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology. …

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