Alaistair Phipps, a volunteer at Enabling Enterprise, looks at how technology can enrich the curriculum and enable students to steer their own learning.

The Case for the New

Is new technology a brazen attack on traditional learning or is it an enriching addition to the curriculum?

Educational commentators have been writing about how iPads have been used and implemented in primary school classes, while others have been investigating the impact of technology on toddlers’ learning. Both seem to come to the conclusion that technology is both good for learning and here to stay. One report talks about how the children were more interested and engaged with the projects that utilise iPads and as a result they consistently exceeded expected learning levels at the end of these projects. Another said that children learn faster through interactive devices and in a natural way for their development. This seems to give the all clear for iPads to appear in classrooms everywhere, but the fact that these stories keep on appearing is indicates that there are underlying concerns about the impact on learning this would have.

We’ve Been Here Before
We have been finding new ways to do the same old things for thousands of years. From writing things down for the first time to interactive whiteboards, we keep developing new ideas about how to help the next generation learn. As we are never going to stop developing new tools and innovations, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about including technology into the classroom but look at how it changes the way we teach and learn. Some experts have raised questions about how our brains are developing now they are constantly bombarded with information. The immediate reaction is to panic that we need to reduce the amount of screen time children have. This won’t work though. Technology is here to stay and we need to know how to use it.

It used to be the case that you went to school to have access to information, to broaden your horizons and to learn from authoritative sources. The teacher’s role was as a custodian to that knowledge, to steer learners through the subject and provide answers when questions were raised. Technology has changed that, by opening up channels of communication that can’t be easily validated. People now engage with an information overload, through social media, 24hr news and editable websites such as Wikipedia. Ensuring young people understand how to judge the accuracy of the information they access should be a key concern for school leaders. No longer is it the teacher’s job just to provide information for learning, the teacher must also educate pupils in how to find appropriate information and judge its authenticity. Teaching is about giving the pupils the tools and skills to overcome challenges, in a world full of technology and seemingly limitless information those skills become focused on filtering the good information from the bad and then applying that information to a wide variety of situations and tasks.

The Fear of the New – Neophobia
In the case of education, technology can be seen as taking an uncomfortable place in the classroom because it is perceived as challenging the traditional role of teachers as a source of knowledge. Naturally there is pushback from teachers about the change but should they really worry? I think not, because technology should rarely be the focus of a lesson but rather be used as a resource to enrich the curriculum. The biggest problem teachers will have to overcome is educating themselves in new technology, something that schools and organisations should be focusing on supporting.

Teachers don’t need to go it alone though. Don’t forget that they have a class of brilliant minds to learn from. For example if learning how to make a slideshow on a tablet, a great way to break down the barrier is to show the class how to make one slide and transition onto another, then have the class show you how to make the second slide and transition onto the next slide. You could then share the document you started as a group to be continued from that point. Group learning is a great educational tool; highlight questions, seek answers and don’t be afraid to learn from the class. Teachers are role models and therefore need to show a willingness to learn at every opportunity.

Enterprise Education
One way to teach the skills for this new information age is through school projects that create tangible results. These not only build confidence and communication skills but also allow students to see the impact of their information in a real way. Project based learning has had its potential unlocked by the revolution in technology; you only need look at the plethora of resources for teachers and students available to see that it is once again changing the educational playing field. When developing enterprise skills, technology really unlocks the potential of a project in terms of outcomes, growth and scale. Research can be more in depth (experts can be approached directly), wider audiences can be reached (over the web through a class blog) and projects can run for much longer time periods (digital archives can be refined by each class progressively).

Enabling Enterprise has been running an iPad based programme at Highgate School, where teachers are using the iPads across the curriculum to make subjects such as literacy interactive by recording performance poetry and reviewing themselves as a class. The tools available to students mean that they are better able to continue with the classwork without waiting for validation from a teacher, using peer review systems and checking their results with online resources. Teachers have found that this increases students’ enthusiasm and note that they are more willing and eager to engage with the lesson materials. The result is that students start to steer their own learning experience and by sharing their findings build a richer and more nuanced education for themselves.

Now, hasn’t that been the goal of teachers all along?

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