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Comparison of 20th and 21st Century Educators

Eamonn OBrien
EdTech 554
20th Century Teachers believe that they are givers of information and that content is the critical
component of education.
The 20th Century Teacher is still stuck in the mindset that school is where people come to receive
information. This was a great thing back in the early 1800s, when a weeks worth of the New
York Times contained more information than a person was likely to encounter in their entire
lives. But last year we put more information onto the internet than human beings had
cumulatively collected in the previous 5000 years. And we will do it again this year, and the year
after that. We no longer need schools as repositories of information, as animated libraries. All of
the information is freely available via the World Wide Web, so why in the world would people
come to school to get information that they can easily get for free at home? Absolutely there are
critical content pieces that a student must walk out the door with when they leave school; math
facts, understanding of number manipulation, understanding of letters and phonics, reading and
writing. But pure information for the sake of information is no longer the case. Who the 23rd
President of the United States was is of no significant value, unless you happen to be using that
information for some specific, meaningful purpose, and passing a test does not pass that test.
The 21st Century Teacher recognizes that information is freely and widely available, and has
pivoted to a position where the teacher, as the more experienced person in the room, is able to
help students navigate not only looking for information, but also then how to utilize and apply
the information that they find. If they are no longer being asked to regurgitate facts, students
should be asked to developed new ideas about the information they uncover and apply this new
understanding they have developed. In these abilities, teachers are definitely the experts in the

20th Century Teachers have to know more than the students and will only allow the use of tech if
they thoroughly understand it themselves.
Once again, these are teachers stuck in the educator as giver of information paradigm. Not
knowing is not acceptable to them, as their entire self-worth as an educator relies on their being
more knowledgeable than a student; after all, that is what demarcates a teacher from a student,
one knows, and the other does not, and it is the job of the knower to impart that knowledge onto
the student. If people no longer come to school to get information, but rather to learn how to get
information, then a teacher not knowing something is not a bad thing, it is an opportunity for the
student to practice finding information that they need, be it how a bird flies, how to solve a
complex math problem, or how to use a piece of technology.

The 21st Century Teacher identifies areas where there are opportunities for students practice the
skills of finding things out for themselves utilizing available resources, and then prompts the
student to do so. My students know that most of the time, when they ask me a question and I say
I dont know, I really do know, but I want them to problem solve the problem on their own. In
addition, a 21st Century Teacher understands and is comfortable in what they do and do not know,
and when they do not know, the goal is to help students find the answers and information that
they are seeking. There is no shame in asking a student how they did something. This feeds
directly into Dan Pinks theory of autonomy, mastery and purpose as the key drivers in getting
people to act. In not having the answer for a student, it permits the student the opportunity to
experience these 3 facets ;
Autonomy I am in charge of finding out the information.
Mastery the teacher doesnt know, it is up to me to figure this out and be the one who
Purpose I need to find this out in order to accomplish what I am trying to accomplish.

20th Century Teachers believe they know best.

Because they believe they know more than the student, the 20th Century Teacher therefore
believes that they know better than the student. While knowing better is one of the requirements
of transitioning from sage on the stage to guide on the side, a paramount part of making such
a transition is in being able to recognize when someone else has identified a
different/equivalent/better method of achieving a goal. Once such a method has been identified,
it is paramount that the educator step back and dispassionately evaluate the pros and cons of each
method; is one better than the other (easier/faster/less error prone/etc) or can they be used
A 21st Century Teacher will go through the same evaluative process, but is open to the idea that
students may have better/different ideas about how to accomplish things and has clearly
identified what are the significant goals of each piece of learning they want a student to
accomplish. In this way, they are able to recognize when a new or different way will not allow
the student to be successful in the long run. Similarly, by knowing better how to predict, a 21st
Century Teacher is able to help guide the student in making determinations about whether a new
or different idea or method will produce the desired outcome.

20th Century Teachers are afraid they will be replaced by technology.

This falls under the content is king paradigm, the belief that people come to school to get
information. If information is what education is all about, then yes, a teacher can be replaced by
technology, which can convey information more efficiently, more cheaply, and more
conveniently. If we consider an amazing device that one could buy when learning how to shoot a
basketball, that automatically funnels all the balls that land below the rim back to the shooter,
this could be a remarkable learning tool, or a complete waste of time and money. The tool itself

is not teaching the shooter how to shoot, thus if the shooter has poor mechanics, all the practice
in the world will not help, they will practice doing the wrong thing. In many regards, technology
tools for learning are no different than math worksheets, all they do is provide the practice.
Where the technology can be effective is in identifying that a learner is making errors, but it
takes the teacher to instruct the learner in the adjustments that need to be made, and allow the
student to practice the new, improved way.
A 21st Century Teacher recognizes that technology is a tool, and only a tool, and that learning is
the practicing and acquisition of skill-sets and that it takes an educator to instruct students in the
acquisition of these skill-set, which the technology can then allow them to practice.

20th Century Teachers believe everything should be graded, everything is meant to be graded, the
gradebook is the only thing that matters when it comes to grades and do not use assessment to
identify areas of weakness that need to be shored up.
Under the information paradigm, all assessment is a measurement of information acquisition,
and as such, any time students are asked to output, they are being asked to output the information
that was put into them. In this way, the grade a student receives on all assessments averages out
to about how much they know. If we accept that information is now readily available, and thus
the information paradigm is null and void, this leaves skills as the outcome of education. But
skills in of themselves are essentially meaningless. I can assign sounds to squiggles on a piece of
paper and convert them into meaning in my head. Most of us call this reading. This is a great
skill if I can actually understand what it is that the writer intended me to understand. If not, we
are back at the basketball player practicing incorrectly. It is not merely the acquisition of skills
which is important, but the application of those skills meaningfully.
A 21st Century Teacher understands that an assessment should be a measurement of application
of a skill or skills that have been learned and practiced. It is a measuring stick for where a student
is in regards to where the teacher wants them to be. Assessment serves as much to inform the
student of how they are doing in the progression sequence as it does to inform the teacher as to
what areas a student still needs learning, supported practice, or individual practice.

20th Century Teachers do little to no shoring up that after the test.

In the information paradigm, the test/assessment is considered the endpoint. Once the test is
complete, class moves on and more information is piled on top. There is no returning to make
sure that students understand concepts. If we have removed information as the goal of education,
and replaced it instead with skills and the application of those skills, why would we not return to
practicing those skills that an assessment identifies as being as weak?
A 21st Century Teacher recognizes that the purpose of assessment is to identify not only those
areas in which a student is succeeding, but also those areas where a student needs additional

support and learning, and then re-crafts the curriculum as necessary to continue addressing the
needs of the learner as demonstrated through the assessment.

20th Century Teachers do not ask students to create or develop their own understanding.
When information is the point, there is no point in understanding. Cram it into your head so you
can spit it out when asked, whether on a test, class discussion or essay. Karl Taro Greenfield
wrote an exceptional piece on the current state of homework (and education in general) in The
Atlantic a few months back, clearly indicating that this is very much the paradigm most teachers
are still operating in. Once information is readily available, it does no good if students are not
encouraged/allowed to take that information and develop an understanding of it. Memorizing
that 9 x 9 = 81 is a necessity to be successful in the world, but simply memorizing is not
sufficient. It becomes nothing more than an occasionally helpful fact, if the learner does not
understand that what is really happening is a foreshortened version of adding 9 groups of 9
together. This logic applies whether we are discussing math, science, history, or philosophy.
Information is only as valuable as the understanding that students have of, and surrounding, it.
A 21st Century Teacher encourages learners to seek out their own understanding about what they
are learning, from why it is important, to how it fits into the learning.

20th Century Teachers do not ask students to apply understanding.

Yesterdays teachers are concerned with acquisition of information under the assumption that
having the knowledge will allow one to utilize it in application. This is a logical fallacy. How
will a learner know how to apply information if they have never been taught or asked to? This
idea is among the most critical of all 21st Century teaching ideas. This is the transitional moment
where a learner ascends from the lower levels of Blooms Taxonomy (i.e. remembering and
understanding) to the higher levels (analyzing and evaluating). These are the skills that must be
developed for a learner to exit school and continue to be a learner beyond the walls of any
educational institution.
A 21st Century Teacher understands that knowledge for knowledges sake is meaningless, but the
application of knowledge through novel and meaningful methods allows the student to
demonstrate their understanding and ability to think and operate critically.

20th Century Teachers lead the class; they do not allow students, or student interests, to lead.
They specify the particular piece of tech to be used, the particular way in which a piece of tech is
to be used and require that tech produced goods conform to a specific, rigid form.

From having operated in the traditional information paradigm where they are the givers of
information, 20th Century Teachers thus view their value as being the expert, and if they are not
the expert, then they are of no value. This is a fear based component. By stringently controlling
the technology usage and the outcome, they are preventing the outcome from possibly straying
into areas that they do not understand. In addition, this avoids any type of outcome for which
they have not planned/prepared to assess, as they are still operating under the belief that all
output must be assessed and recorded as demonstration of information gained.
A 21st Century Teacher recognizes that the end product is intended as a demonstration of
understanding, and each student may arrive at a different technological need to fully demonstrate
their understanding. In addition, they will be understand very clearly ahead of time what are the
specific skills which are being developed through the use of technology (using iMovie is not a
skill a teacher should be concerned with), and thus, regardless of the technology used, they will
be able to assess whether the learner was able to practice and/or demonstrate achievement of the
skill or skills.

20th Century Teachers do not encourage failure, trying new things or exploration, nor do they
build in methods for students to demonstrate understanding even if the tech fails.
Failure has long been a taboo of education. Once again, this relates to the information
paradigm mentality, where success is measured by how much information is imparted; failure to
take in information equals failure to learn under this model. Under the information as readily
available model, learning is a long developmental process whereby the learner uses the
information they have acquired in order to utilize it in application. In this way, failure is the only
method to success. A learner must try to make connections and use the information as the
foundational argument of their suppositions, in this regard. It is only through failure, over and
over again, that they will develop an understanding of what does and does not work. Students
should be encouraged to try things even if they are not sure they will work, for it is in the doing
that learning occurs. Until they try something, they will never know if it will work. As David
Kelley, the founder of IDEO, says, students must fail faster to succeed sooner.
Similarly, in implementing technology, a teacher must abandon the concept that the final product
is the demonstration of mastery. This concept originated in the written paper and the public
presentation. In both of these methods, there is relatively little that can go wrong that would
prevent a student from being able to demonstrate their understanding. Even if a paper is poorly
written, or a spoken presentation delivered poorly, both still have written documentation of their
understanding, in the form of the actual paper itself, or the notecards. In the reality of technology,
so, too, must a teacher provide an avenue for students to continue to provide evidence of their
understanding in case the public viewing method is poorly rendered or, as we know can occur,
the technology, through no fault of their own, fails. This is where such concepts as backup
documents come into play, a repository where the learner stores the information upon which
they will be basing their technology creation. This can be a document that lives in the cloud, is
saved in multiple locations, or a hand written copy saved in a secure place. In this way, if the
technology fails, the understanding can still be determined based on the evidence supplied in the

backup document. While there are certainly times where producing a written paper or a public
presentation are the skills that are being addressed, assessing a student on their ability to use a
particular application (such as GarageBand) shows a complete lack of understanding of the skills
that should be focused on, as the entire point of including technology in such a format is to
practice developing skills in problem solving, working through ambiguity, and the like.
A 21st Century Teacher encourages failure, iteration, and analysis of each failure as a means of
learning (hence the adage It is only a failure if you do not learn from it.). The 21st Century
teacher carefully plans and develops curriculum that not only does not penalize learners for
failure, but actually encourages them to try things that will fail and, from these failures and their
analysis, will develop understanding.

20th Century Teachers believe the curriculum is a fixed object.

This idea is yet another hold-over of the information paradigm and is rooted in the concept that
a teacher must impart certain information onto a student. This is also rooted in poor curriculum
planning. If one operates in a skill-based paradigm, they have planned a progression of skill
development and growth, and thus the goal is to move learners from one point to a more
advanced point in their development of specific skills. In this way, the material being covered in
class is simply the vehicle for developing these skills, rather than the significant portion of the
class. Thus, if, after an assessment, it is shown that students continue to need development of a
skill-set before they are ready to move on to the next one, the teacher can adjust the curriculum,
even while advancing in the specific material, by modifying the methods of delivery and
demonstration of understanding to specifically focus on practicing those skills that need to be
developed more fully.
A 21st Century Teacher understands that the driving goal of the curriculum is to develop the skills
that students will need. Thus the curriculum must remain fluid and flexible in order to respond
appropriately to the needs of students as demonstrated through feedback received during

20th Century Teachers do not take advantage of available technology to improve their teaching.
This is largely a fear based action, or inaction, as the case may be. Teachers who do not utilize
technologies to improve the teaching they can provide are doing themselves, and their students, a
disservice. Whether it is failing to utilize something like GoogleDrive in a GoogleApps for
Education school to allow for real-time viewing of student writing as well as historical revisions,
or not utilizing individualized learning platforms, such as Dreambox or IXL, which allow
students to practice at their own pace and then delivers detailed analysis to the teacher, teachers
who do not take advantage of such advancements chew up valuable and limited student
interaction time assessing menial practice by hand, or missing opportunities for real time

intervention at the point where it can actually make a tremendous impact, instead of being lost in
the shuffle of so much other information being delivered at a seemingly arbitrary endpoint.
A 21st Century Teacher values the advantage that technology can provide by attending to menial
details and opening access to student work in real time, permitting them to spend more time
working with students at the point where the failure is occurring and thus more fluently learn
from their mistakes.

20th Century Teachers do not challenge students in their use of technology and are afraid of
giving students freedom.
Once again, this is a fear based decision. Because the teacher does not feel comfortable with the
technology, they are unwilling to give students the head to explore and try new things that they,
themselves, are unfamiliar with, nor are they willing to encourage students to try things that are
difficult, believing (erroneously) that if the student(s) get stuck, they, the teacher, will not be able
to help them move forward. The reality is that the teacher, even if they are unfamiliar with the
technology, are still able to operate as the guide, helping the students to problem solve through
something, even without knowing much about the piece of technology. Providing students
freedom falls squarely under Dan Pinks theory of autonomy and should be encouraged at all
A 21st Century Teacher recognizes that they will not be the expert at all technologies that students
may choose, but does not impede student development by preventing them from trying new
things. In addition, the 21st Century teacher actively develops new ways to challenge students in
their implementation and use of technology by pushing them to do more with, or trying more
complicated things with the technology.