According to Alec Couros, today’s young people no longer have separate online and offline lives. They inhabit a “hybrid reality” that affects the way they learn and communicate. To engage this generation, educators must understand their complex digital world.

Couros, a professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina, provides a road map at the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference. His keynote speech, “Understanding the Digital Realities of Our Students,” will explore the current information age, delving into contemporary trends. Participants will leave with new insight into young adults who are shaped by the internet and mobile technologies.

“Educators need to understand the complexities of young people’s digital lives so they can create learning environments that are better attuned to their needs,” Couros says. “By gaining a sense of the hybrid reality that young people inhabit, teachers are better able to bring technology and social media into the classroom in positive ways, and to provide comfortable spaces for their students to practice using digital tools in powerful and transformational ways.”

mobile technology

‘Educators need to understand the complexities of young people’s digital lives so they can create learning environments that are better attuned to their needs,’ Couros says.

On Aug. 7-9, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference will feature leading lights from academia, industry, and government at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, overlooking Madison’s lovely Lake Monona. The conference attracts more than 800 higher education faculty and staff, instructional designers, and workforce trainers in search of innovative approaches.

Couros looks forward to addressing a curious and committed audience at this year’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference.

“I was lucky enough to attend last year and was struck by the incredible hospitality and sense of community,” he says. “I was also impressed with the depth of conversation. I felt that attendees were eager to discuss their practices and to apply what they learned at the conference.”

Timely professional learning

Along with probing the digital reality of today’s students, Couros’ keynote speech will survey recent tools and their implications for teaching and learning. He believes that educators play a critical role in helping students manage the many streams of information available to them.

Couros: ‘I was lucky enough to attend the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference last year and was struck by the incredible hospitality and sense of community.’

“It’s important to understand that while young people may appear to be adept users of technology, they often lack the fluency needed to leverage digital tools in ways that empower their own learning,” he says. “It’s important for teachers to focus on helping students develop the new and emerging literacies they need to become attentive readers of today’s world.”

For teachers to serve this function in a rapidly changing educational environment, they must commit to lifelong learning themselves.

“I believe that teachers must build their own personal learning networks, which will enable them to engage in continuous, timely professional learning,” Couros says. “In this way, they will be better equipped to stay up to date on the latest trends in young people’s use of digital tools and will have a network of educators with whom to discuss innovative pedagogies.”

To learn more about the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference or to register, see the conference website. For additional information, contact Wendy Fritz, 608-265-2679, wendy.fritz@wisc.edu.