Why teachers still matter most in the digital age

How can we open doors for a more personalized approach to teaching and learning? Technology in the classroom can be a powerful catalyst. But while technology is ever-evolving, one thing remains the same: the importance of the teacher in motivating students, customizing instruction for each of his or her needs, and managing classrooms that blend digital with live instruction.

Teachers–not tech–will always remain the “gold standard” of quality in education. Technology, in the hands of these great teachers, can empower higher degrees of engagement and equip students with the 21st-century skills they will need for success after graduation. Embracing digital learning means appreciating teachers’ permanent and critical role in the classroom, while empowering them to harness the tools that expand their curriculum, and enhance communication with parents, administrators, and individual students.

Embracing digital learning means appreciating teachers’ permanent and critical role in the classroom, while empowering them to harness the tools that expand their curriculum and enhance communication.

Great learning for students isn’t a matter of “waiting for superman,” or waiting for technology to become a “silver bullet” for student success. The learning comes from quality teachers who consider high-tech tools— including online books, lessons, and other resources—part of a larger ecosystem of learning in a classroom. Targeted learning—whether one-on-one or in small groups—becomes easier to implement; advanced students stay challenged, and those at risk of falling behind get the remedial help they need.

A teacher in a Maine public middle school told me, “My classroom is so much more engaging, efficient, and inspiring for students. These students come in each day, set new learning goals with me and work to demonstrate mastery of their subject.” Maine has a one-laptop-per-child program and competency-based education programs. These students set goals, have access to technology tools and resources that allow them to build their own projects, and set curricular goals aligned to the state academic standards to demonstrate their learning.

Technology gives teachers more opportunities to allow their students to go deeper into learning subjects, building their skills in researching, writing, and communicating. And those opportunities extend outside the classroom more easily; far better than can be done through old-fashioned schooling.

A teacher using digital curriculum and online discussions in a high school history class remarked, “I know my students so much better as I ask them to write essays and respond to other students’ essays with targeted feedback. We use the comments in the online learning space to dig into deeper discussions with our time together in classrooms.”

So much of the world we live in is digital. College life and the working world after graduation require the knowledge to use technology to communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve. By providing teachers the training and resources they need to implement technology in the classroom, they can change the way students learn and better prepare them for our globally competitive world.

We must remember that this world is both high tech and high touch. Students want both high tech for individualization and flexibility and high touch from great teachers. Computers will never replace people in any setting, especially in the education of our youth. The promise of technology to help our teachers catalyze learning is a promise worth investing in, so that our teachers can motivate and guide students with the best tools and have even more impact for student success.

Susan Patrick is president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Her blog is Education Domain.