Most teachers wish they could provide their students with a rich array of technology resources in the classroom, but not all are lucky enough to do so.
To UNLV education professor Tom Bean, it’s disheartening that some classrooms suffer from limited funding for and access to technology. Gone are the days, he says, of believing that nontraditional technologies and teaching methods are not necessary.
“If we are going to get our students to think critically about the barrage of information that they encounter on the Internet, then we have to incorporate multiple modes of presentation in our lessons,” he argues.
In his book, Multimodal Learning for the 21st Century Adolescent, Bean explores how teachers can capitalize on the many technologies students now have at their fingertips.
“Technology can be seen as a double-edged sword,” says Bean, a nationally recognized expert on content area teacher creativity, literacy, and problem solving. “On the one hand, the Internet and the myriad of devices available – from iPads to smartphones to interactive whiteboards to ebooks – afford access to whole new worlds of information. On the other hand, the very richness of these resources can seem overwhelming.”
Just what does multimodal learning include? Beyond the traditional printed text, whether it’s in a book or on a screen, multimodal learning features various art forms such as music combined with visual imagery and spatial cues that carry meaning of their own.
“In addition, with Web 2.0’s interactive elements, such as Wikipedia and Facebook, the possibilities for student creativity and production have never been better,” he says.
Bean, who was nominated by the Association of the Educational Publishers for a Distinguished Achievement Award for this book, hails this time period as the golden age for multimodal approaches. Having teachers and students interacting with and making decisions about design, visual imagery, music, film clips, navigation, and content allows both groups to be creative.
Another positive about the multimodal approach is its ability to recapture disenfranchised students – those not adept at learning through traditional means – and get them engaged once again.
“Our curriculum decisions will start to shift toward an emphasis on problem-solving abilities and away from recalling facts for high stakes assessments,” says Bean, who has co-authored 15 books, more than 20 book chapters, and 88 articles. He also formerly served as the editor of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.
Bean notes that the context for learning is changing, and teachers must be adaptable to help students reach their potential.
“Great teaching takes place through apprenticeships, coaching, and mentoring in problem-based contexts where inquiry is paramount,” he says.
Shell Education, which specializes in professional development materials for educators, approached Bean to write the book. His editor, Hillary Wolf, appreciates its friendly tone and useful-right-now approach.
“This book addresses the very specific skills kids are going to need as they look for jobs in the 21st century: collaboration, communication, visual literacy, access to technology, and group projects,” Wolf says. “This is different from how most of us learned.”
Various studies Bean cites in his book reinforce this reality. A Time magazine report, “The Way We’ll Work,” describes a future when 85 percent of newly created jobs will involve problem solving and critical thinking. Teams of people will be working together across geographical and cultural borders in the global knowledge economy; thus, students need to develop their discernment, creativity, and ability to solve problems.
As sole author of Multimodal Learning for the 21st Century Adolescent, Bean enjoyed the creative freedom he was given to write the book.
“It was a labor of love and very fulfilling to have my own classroom experiences, content area research, and the insights of teachers and graduate students I have worked with come together in one place.”