“Teaching tends to be a very isolating profession,” says Eric Langhorst, the eighth-grade American History teacher who was 2008 Missouri Teacher of the Year. “Even though you’re in a building with other teachers, there are relatively few who teach exactly the same thing you do.”
Langhorst is used to relatively isolating environments. He grew up in a small Nebraska town and, soon after college, started teaching in another small Nebraska town. “I taught every history or social studies class for every grade from seventh to 12th,” he says. When he and his wife, also a history teacher, moved to Liberty, Missouri, to teach at South Valley Junior High, Langhorst wasn’t expecting the same sense of seclusion”after all, his new position would see 150 kids a week through his classroom. But he found, that despite a larger environment, peer-to-peer interaction remained elusive. To bridge the divide, he looked to technology.
“I bought an MP3 player about six years ago and just started to play with it,” he says. “I created a podcast for teachers and decided to just kind of share some of the things that were happening in my classroom and put it on a blog, too.” He uses the space and time to discuss events in his classroom as well as the latest in educational technology and his personal explorations. Topics may range from current events to methods of teaching the Constitution to the details of his recent trip to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston.
“I can put an idea out in my podcast and have teachers from all over the world listen to it and give me feedback,” he says. “I get a lot of comments from teachers that are in their first or second year, they say that my material really helped them get started when they were feeling overwhelmed.”
Technology is something that Langhorst hopes to focus on while getting his doctorate in education at Walden University, with a specialization in K-12 educational leadership, a program he started earlier this year. He’s already creative in the way he uses the Internet with his students: In addition to posting study-guides via podcast before each unit exam, when possible he uses video chat to conference in the authors of books he’s using in class. He also encourages his students to experiment with the tools that are available to them. For a section on Abraham Lincoln’s election, for example, he set them up with cameras and editing equipment to make television ads as if Lincoln were running for president today.
“We have to realize that the world that we’re preparing them for is much different than the world that we prepared for in previous generations,” he says. “Our students are going to need to solve problems, they are no longer just trying to gain information. I can remember doing my term paper and having to drive to a larger town to go to a library that had some information that I needed. Now the problem isn’t finding the information, it’s about figuring out what’s correct and applying it.”
His goal? “To use technology in a way that will help them become literate in how to use this tsunami of information that’s available to them,” he says. This kind of shift in education might just be history in the making.