Teaching and Technology: The Digital Age of Teaching
The last decade has seen a revolution in the use of new classroom technologies which has helped to overhaul teaching and learning in schools across the UK. It may come as a shock to those whose last school experience was as a pupil 20 or more years ago but the modern classroom is a place of intensive technology.
Gone are the blackboards, overhead projectors, BBC computers and reams of paper of days gone by; today’s classroom is dominated by interactive whiteboards, laptop computers, IT learning platforms and, in some cases, pupils’ iPads. But as technology continues to advance at a rate that is hard for schools to keep up with, let alone to afford, what positive impacts have these new technologies had and are they always fail-safe?
Possibly the first major revolution in IT occurred in the early years of the last decade as traditional classroom whiteboards (and in some cases blackboards) were gradually replaced or supplemented by interactive whiteboards.
Wall-mounted centrally for an entire class to see, interactive whiteboards enable a computer‘s display to be projected onto it. It can be written on using a virtual pen or controlled at the touch of a finger giving pupils immense independence to learn interactively, thus disposing of the traditional ‘chalk-and-talk’ approach to teaching.
Perhaps for the first time teachers were actively encouraging children to leave their seats and move around the classroom and pupils were motivated by the opportunity to ‘go interactive’. With the advent of a wealth of games designed for interactive whiteboards, most pupils would agree that learning has become more enjoyable and memorable.
However, some teachers have struggled with the concept of incorporating them into lessons as their own IT skills and confidence have been low, meaning that the full potential of interactive whiteboards has not been harnessed. Also, a computer with a reasonably fast processor is essential for the interactive whiteboard experience to be flawless and in many schools it has taken considerable investment to bring the hardware up to the required standard.
Increasingly many schools have now moved away from operating a suite of networked PCs in favour of portable laptops, to enable learning in IT to become embedded in the curriculum rather than standing alone as a skills-based subject. Where IT is involved, pupils’ motivation is generally markedly increased and, with children now acquiring complex computing skills at home at a rapid pace, the opportunity to bring IT into the classroom has been positive.
However, the use of laptops has not been without difficulties which are usually related to maintenance. This is particularly the case in primary schools which tend not to have on-site technical support; service contracts have to be purchased at additional costs and, with a technician often only attending on a weekly or fortnightly basis, problems with hardware can go unresolved for considerable lengths of time.
A comparatively new development in schools, cloud storage is proving to be an increasingly popular way to store valuable data. With pupils’ work becoming more complex including animations, graphics, music and videos, the squeeze on storage space is greater than ever.
Cloud storage has several benefits:
- Data is securely stored away from the school site so in the event of fire or flooding files will be safely protected
- Access rights can be set to allow remote access; for example pupils in their own homes who need to complete homework tasks or to revise key aspects of their learning
- Backup on a daily basis is automatic without the need for a designated member of staff having to complete the task manually.
However, schools need to be conscious of any limits in their data transfer or broadband speed and must ensure that the cloud is secure to prevent outside intrusion.
Still mainly the preserve of secondary schools, iPads are becoming more prevalent with some schools purchasing sufficient to equip every pupil with one for lessons. Undoubtedly there are key strengths in this approach.
Children are becoming increasingly Apple-friendly from their own experiences at home so educating them in the use of iPads is not always a necessity and there are great learning opportunities associated with iPad technology, especially for pupils who have identified special needs. Educational apps for iPad are growing rapidly as software companies recognise the hole in the market.
However, for a large number of iPads to be in use simultaneously the school must have a high quality WiFi network in place and this can be costly to achieve due to the number of wireless points required in a sizeable building.
Teachers need to be trained in how to make best use of iPad technology to enhance learning in a meaningful way rather than simply as a time-filler in lessons. Also, many schools which have purchased iPads for pupils have reported the impact of wear and tear meaning that the equipment has a limited shelf life of only a couple of years.
With IT advancing at an unstoppable pace and children’s own knowledge and skills set expanding rapidly, the use of new technologies in schools clearly has its benefits.
Incorporating them into teaching and learning, however, is a challenge for all teachers if technology is to be meaningful and relevant to pupils and the powerful vehicle for academic learning that it deserves to be.