Digital technology doesn’t have to completely replace established teaching methods to improve how lessons are taught, projects are managed and children organise their work, argues Matt Britland, Director of ICT at The Lady Eleanor Holles School. Digital technology instead should be utilised to compliment, enhance and support not necessarily replace traditional learning methods.
Technology is a great enabler for people throughout society and nowhere does it have more potential to improve the way we do things than in our schools. I’m currently investigating ways to blend technology with traditional teaching structures to facilitate new, more efficient ways of working with young people.
Despite what you hear occasionally in the media, there really is no such thing as a “digital native” – everyone, regardless of whether they are a baby boomer, Millennial or the next generation sometimes referred to as “Gen Z”, must start from somewhere.
Today, when children arrive at secondary school they might have a grasp of the basics of social media and they might own a PlayStation or Xbox, but this doesn’t equate to them having the sort of sophisticated digital skills required in the workforce.
Being able to update Instagram or playing video games online is not the same as using technology holistically and it doesn’t necessarily give younger people a general technological edge.
But youngsters of 11 and 12 do have the advantage of having been born into the digital era, and so they see working with technology as normal. But increasingly teachers are becoming responsible for refining that instinct into practical skills in research, communication and creativity.
Education should be social, and digital platforms can help to deliver education programmes and organise them in a way that is more accessible to children. There are many good examples of where this is happening in schools right now.
For example, at The Lady Eleanor Holles School, every student and teacher will have their own tablet computer. With help from broadband and the cloud this grants universal access to information not just in the classroom but from anywhere with an internet connection.
Technology is creating lots and lots of different ways in which children can learn, whether it is collaborative documents, video, interactive e-books, apps or websites to work from. The opportunity is to provide a more engaging and varied experience than we and our parents received.
School children can learn in their own way. They can work on documents collaboratively without having to be in the same room and they can select learning resources immediately, unlike the previous generation who had to wait for a book to become available in the library.
Free software such as Google Apps for Education are enormously useful for collaborative study that connects different students and teachers in real time. A side benefit, of course, is that there is no need to print work out, so less wasted paper and no margin for the age-old excuse “my dog ate my homework”.
I started a project at our school in which students create their own app. It involves some coding and other technical skills, so I also created some supporting guidance in the form of a video series. As adults we often watch “how-to” videos to find solutions to problems, so why not at school too?
Students have access to the full eight-week course from day one. They don’t have to wait for me and can progress right to the end at their own speed. The 11 and 12 year-olds that I teach absolutely love it and they get a lot more out of the process than if I was simply dictating from the front of the class. The students feel empowered and more in control of their own learning.
There are few understandable objections to technology in schools. Some people are concerned that because information is immediately accessible students don’t have to develop memory skills, while others fear the death of the art of handwriting.
To these I say that digital channels are there to complement, support and enhance existing learning methods and not replace them completely. It’s also possible that future examinations could be split between on-and-offline modules: one testing research skills and the other the ability to recall facts.
Technology will have a greater or lesser influence depending on its relevance and where it can genuinely add value to the learning experience.
It will not replace the teacher, who is the central piece of the education puzzle. People learn best from people and teachers will always be needed to guide lessons, facilitate discussion and of course to apply discipline when necessary.
People are wrong when they say either that the future should be all technology or all traditional methods. The two can go hand-in-hand. The world of work will always need people who can remember things and come up with solutions to problems without recourse to Google.
We should take the bits that work and leave out the bits that don’t, keeping an eye-out for potential downsides such as shortening attention spans or impatience with processes that take longer than a two-minute YouTube video.
If it’s done right, technology will be an incredible asset in schools. I would encourage the use of technology as long as it is planned, teachers are trained and the network infrastructure can support it. If we can achieve this then the next crop of graduates will be a major credit to the UK workforce.
The future of technology in education is an exciting one. There are several emerging technologies that I believe can really benefit students.
Virtual Reality (VR) technology such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear have been recently launched to the public and open the door to more immersive learning experiences. Imagine being able to put on the VR headset and exploring a historically accurate ancient Rome with class mates. You could journey though the inside of the human body similar to films like Fantastic Voyage or Inner Space or even join a lesson from home and feel like you are actually sat in the class. It is very exciting.
Similar to VR is Augmented Reality (AR) which was bought to public attention by Google with their ‘Glass’ project. Microsoft have developed their own AR technology called HoloLens. Using a headset it overlays high definition holograms over what the user is looking at. For instance if it was used in an education context a wearer could view a 3D model of building when looking at a set of blueprints or look at an object and have information display on top of it. It could even be used to bring extinct animals back from the dead and have them appear in holographic form. This will really bring the classroom and learning alive.
The future of technology in education is an exciting prospect.
To learn more about Matt Britland visit his blog here.