Upon first reading the article "Is Embracing Digital Learning a Moral Issue for Educators?" by Wesley Fryer published on www.SpeedofCreativity.org , I was quick to believe that the subject is being blown out of proportion. To regard a teacher's choice not to be a "21st Century educator" by using digital resources as immoral or unethical seems rash and inappropriate. Also, applying ethical codes to a such a diverse, and often subjective, practice seems implausible. The unique approaches of our public schools’ teachers are what make public education beautiful and invaluable. Digital learning is just one of many ways teachers vary in methodology. Therefore, it seems unfair to judge how a teacher chooses to teach.
But then I further examined the issue and thought, What about the unique needs of our students? Don’t their needs, creativity, and collaboration also make our classroom environments beautiful? As teachers, we need to consider how we are are not only accommodating students, but also supporting them in meeting and exceeding our expectations.
As a teacher and an advocate for public education, I am neither accusing public school teachers of being ineffective, nor am I proposing we foist a single pedagogical model on all school districts in the United States. But, I am pressing educators to think about this question: If teachers rely on their own individuality and personal preference as reasons not to evolve their teaching practices, then how do they develop best practices and meet their students' needs? When we consider teacher motivation, we then begin to grapple with the question of whether or not we should consider teachers’ approaches as a moral issue.
How should Teachers choose? People make decisions every day that do not align with others' values; but that does not necessarily make their decisions immoral. Some of the well-meaning decisions we make as teachers, leaders, homemakers, caretakers, and more even render unexpected and undesirable outcomes. These outcomes are unintentional and often unpredictable, and they do not make us or our decisions immoral. Thus, as with any human behavior, it is the person's intent that deems his or her act as moral or immoral. With this truth, we can then examine pedagogical methodology as an ethical issue: teachers' intentions behind their decisions on a daily basis do hold ethical weight. Within a school day, innumerable events directly result from teacher decisions, and these decisions directly impact the students’ lives. Teaching's objective is to serve the young population, and teachers' decisions need to be made with the intent to meet that end. This purpose coupled with the impact of teacher choices on student life inherently makes teaching a profession of ethical concern.
Digital technology is a tool in education. By definition, a tool should only be used if it makes a task more easily or more effectively done. I stand by the philosophy that teachers should not be eager to adopt digital resources in every aspect of their teaching for the sake of being “tech saavy” or a “21st Century educator.” Again, the lesson and chosen materials need to demonstrate the teacher’s intent to engage, challenge, and prepare his or her students. Therefore, if a teacher in a wireless and paperless school, for example, chooses not to use digital technology in a lesson due to the ineffectiveness of digital media in that particular activity, then the teacher is using judgement in order to execute the most accessible and productive lesson possible. This decision has positive intentions with regard to student learning outcomes, and it is therefore a moral one.
However, some educators make the conscious decision to avoid new methods, such as digital learning, due to their own reluctance to learn or their own discomfort with the change in approach. While learning new pedagogical approaches can admittedly be daunting, time consuming, and sometimes intimidating, the commitment to professional development is a known requirement in the profession. The sheer refusal to learn and try new approaches is, plainly, a negative decision. In a time where digital information essentially runs the world in personal matters and business, a teacher choosing not to promote certain digital literacies in the classroom because they do not seem pertinent to his or her own life is using egocentric judgement, and is therefore making an immoral decision. The teacher is entitled to have preferences; but if these preferences do not accommodate diverse learners and prepare all students for their future lives, then these preferences are disservices to the students.
Some technologies offer the most effective means of Universal Design and differentiation for students. With federal initiatives to increase digital literacy and close achievement gaps, teachers are being called upon to be more innovative and to address more variations of student learning than ever before. Naturally, an increase in resources and opportunities to collaborate with colleagues is essential in this shift. In many schools, including my own, socioeconomic diversity and attendance issues among students pose significant challenges to our abilities to motivate students and track their progress. Providing course work on a class site or other web-based platform such as Edpuzzle or Schoology may be the most effective way to provide additional resources and practice for struggling students. Or, sharing these assignments may be the bridge to reach students who are absent, as they can be accessed from any device that connects to internet. In my experience, these resources have empowered “borderline” students to complete more assignments, develop deeper understandings, and gain confidence in their schoolwork. I recognize that not all districts have the technology to support online class models. Yet, deciding not to avail such resources due to personal preference, or continuing to do "what has worked in the past" to suit a teacher's comfort are insufficient and immoral teaching decisions.
I have previously thought that there are passionate teachers, apathetic teachers, and teachers who leave the profession because it does not suit them. But, this categorization is far too narrow... There are certainly teachers who are very passionate about their content and perhaps even passionate about sharing their knowledge with students. But, they may not be passionate about understanding child development and learning new methods to best reach their students and make them lifelong learners. There are teachers who are passionate about research, data, and technology; but, they may not necessarily be passionate about connecting with their individual students and making the content and skills applicable to their students’ lives. Ultimately, being an educator requires professionals to make the conscious decision to be committed to all of these focuses and to design lessons with the students' futures in mind. This selflessness is not always easy, but it is the most moral decision. Even while some new methods and technologies may fail or require reworking, this selflessness is what keeps us focused on our objective; and this effort will not go unnoticed by the students.
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