Technology in the classroom
What role does technology play in education and what role will it play in the future? It’s tempting to believe that every classroom is filled with iPads and interactive whiteboards but the reality is quite different for most pupils. However, there’s no doubt that technology is playing an increasingly important role in education.
The BETT show in London was full of hardware and software vendors keen to show off their latest product and give us a glimpse into a technology-laden future. The extent to which technology will, or should, influence education is still the subject of much debate.
How can technology be employed to enhance children’s learning experience, rather than being used for its own sake? And which technologies will prevail? Will the iPad dominate the classroom or is cloud computing the way forward?
Using technology to increase enagagement
Whilst the technology itself plays a part, the important thing is how it’s used. Getting pupils engaged, keeping their interest and making it easier to collaborate all help to make learning more enjoyable and, ultimately, more productive.
So, how can technology improve engagement and help pupils want to learn more? There’s no single answer, as the needs of each school, class and pupil are different - as are the resources available to them. Blended learning, where pupils learn at least partially online with some control over the pace and delivery of the content, has been around for 15 years but has grown in popularity over the last five years or so.
The benefits of blended learning
The concept, and practice, of blended learning are proving successful in higher education, with many universities now offering courses which combine face-to-face lectures with online tutorials and forums. Unsurprisingly, the Open University has embraced blended learning and many bricks-and-mortar establishments have followed suit.
Can the principals of blended learning be applied successfully to primary and secondary schools? The overall consensus seems to be that it can. The challenge is to get the balance right between traditional teaching methods and virtual learning. Too much reliance on virtual learning can mean that pupils miss out on valuable interaction with teachers and classmates.
On the other hand, blended learning can help pupils interact and co-operate in ways that would be much more difficult in a traditional setting. For example, programs like Cubert’s Writing Cube provide an online platform for collaborative story writing. Pupils can create or upload illustrations for their stories, use an interactive story-starter and get feedback from the teacher and fellow pupils within the program.
All of this makes it easier for pupils to work together to create stories, edit their work and just be creative. Children using the program are far less likely to suffer from writer’s block and they can continue working at home if they wish to.
Augmented reality can be another useful addition to the blended learning toolbox, helping to bring subjects to life. Overlaying relevant, digital information on to real objects places them in context and gives pupils a much greater understanding. For instance, how much more fascinating would it be to swipe smartphone over a passage from the Declaration of Independence and see an image of the original document?
Finding the right balance
There is no doubt that technology has its limitations – no piece of software ever inspired a pupil the way a great teacher can. And there other issues with bringing technology into the classroom – cost being the biggest, followed by security. Whichever combination of hardware and software you opt for, it won’t be cheap and you’ll need to take steps to protect pupils from hackers, cyber-bullies or simply leaving their iPad on the bus.
Used in the right way, technology can enrich the learning experience, empower pupils and give teachers the freedom to be more creative. Most mainstream schools simply don’t have the budget or in-house expertise to implement the kind of futuristic solutions we see at trade shows or in tech magazines.
One way or another, though, digital learning is set to become an increasingly important part of our children’s education.
by Anthony Morgan