Over the last few decades we have seen our world and our human experience rapidly transform thanks to technology. This unstoppable shift to ‘digital’ comes with some threats, from hacking to data security. Whilst increasing technology in the classroom comes with many benefits, from online teaching software to virtual learning environments for teachers, just like any change, it also brings some risks.
There is little we can do to completely stop the downsides, as they simply come inherently with many of the benefits, However, we can work to better understand them as teachers, and hence minimise their negative effects.
Here are just a few ways that teachers can better understand and adapt to the importance of technology in education:
- Keeping up with new tech and new skills:
Rapid technological change increases the need for consistent professional development, as new skills need to be learnt and new jobs need to be filled. However, the inertia of many institutions (especially large and traditional colleges and universities) against change keeps them from being able to keep up.
Many of the measures taken (such as ‘technology policies’, ‘teacher growth plans’, and ‘department restructuring’) are ineffective and don’t create the rate of change necessary. This means the change must really start on a classroom-to-classroom basis, with each teacher personally adjusting the way they teach. This takes a lot of effort on each teachers’ part, because they have to be educated in new skills before passing that knowledge on. This is why true top-down professional development is the way forward for many institutions.
- Finding the perfect balance:
All change creates a false dichotomy between traditionalists, who stick to tried-and-tested ways, and progressives, who pick up on new methods despite a lack of proof of their efficacy. This is never more so than with technology.
Both sides have their fair arguments, however as society progresses so too must the way we teach. So surely the best way of moving forward in education is by having a clever balance between tradition and progress. In these situations is it pertinent to ask ourselves ‘How can we use technology in the classroom in a planned and consistent way?’
- Technology costs, so how can we make it affordable?
With changing classrooms comes increasing overhead costs – both financial and intellectual.
From a financial point of view, the only way that educational institutions will be able to afford the capital investment that technology requires is through ongoing planning and preparation for it. This can either come from cutting back from other areas, although why risk being understaffed, or reaching out to external means, through part privatisation or ‘academisation’ (turning into academies), which is also something many schools and parents don’t really want.
From the intellectual point of view, educators are increasingly required to be many things: experts in teaching, technology experts, pioneering early adopters, and finally, master managers of the entire process. Surely that is too much for one teacher!
Ultimately the only thing that can help alleviate both these costs will be increased funding and support from the government.
- Function > Form
Technology is always aging and fragmenting across hardware generations (for example, iPhone 7 vs. 8 vs. X). Whilst this can be frustrating, it isn’t always a bad thing either.
If technology were the same across the board, just as notepads and pens are, then they’d become just as ubiquitous as notepads and pens are. But technology remains first a consumer industry, so its evolution isn’t going to slow down or homogenise anytime soon – at least not whilst there are crowds of people queuing to buy the latest version!
However this ever-changing landscape, whilst disorientating, should encourage a re-focus on the learner: such rapid progress and change can have the effect of de-emphasizing technology entirely, so instead of focusing on ‘what’ and ‘which’, we can focus more on ‘why’ and ‘how’.
- Change requires our best thinking
Just like all times of change, this one requires a clever approach and collective good thinking. This involves avoiding jumping to conclusions, or drawing erratic extrapolations on too little data, or expanding biases, or refusing to consider alternative solutions.
Rapid change, and in particular rapid technological change, creates constantly new circumstances – which require a smart approach to ensure that the technology is serving us and not the other way around.
Also check out our article: Is Digital Technology Changing Learning And Teaching?
First things first, let’s just say it: we think that digital learning and teaching are here to stay. The use of digital technology in education might only be a recent phenomenon, but it’s one that’s already having profound effects on how we teach, how we learn and how students succeed.
So, rather than yet another piece on whether we should digitise our classrooms at all, let’s take a look at whether the change is likely to stick.
Digital and mobile learning is a reflection of a huge societal shift
Digital and mobile learning are, rightly or wrongly, taking over the classroom. Growing numbers of school boards and individual teachers are moving with the times and using digital sources to teach, and digital environments to work in. But this isn’t simply a change within education; it’s anything but. It’s a reflection of the way that society is heading more generally.
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs are a part of every home in a way that was unimaginable even just twenty years ago. They offer convenience and flexibility that was completely unheard of not just in education, but in nearly every aspect of life. As humans, we’re never ones to give up something convenient unless something more convenient comes along. We gave up fax in the 1990s, not because we didn’t want to communicate any more, but because email came along. So societal change isn’t going anywhere, its only likely to accelerate as it always has done.
Digital learning in the classroom is backed up by some big names
Since the digitisation of classrooms reflects not just a niche change, but a whole societal restructuring, it’s no surprise that some big names in business are sitting up and taking note. Hundreds of businesses just like Quickclass are moving with the times, and making VLEs and apps that can both help push this digital revolution forward, and help you to benefit from it.
And, naturally, it’s not just us. Probably the biggest name to have stepped into the market is Google, who are famous for trying to get their finger into almost every pie going. Google have created Google Classroom; while we don’t think it’s the best VLE out there, it’s a sign that the big guys are very interested for their own variety of reasons.
Digital learning and teaching benefit everybody
Allowing your students greater flexibility to do their work is only of benefit. It allows them to study and work wherever they choose, alter the pace of their learning to suit their needs, and even completely change how they learn. This sort of student led learning isn’t a new idea, but digital learning and teaching allows it to blossom like never before.
And the use of a virtual learning environment doesn’t just benefit students, it benefits teachers too. VLEs allow teachers to better organise their work load, share marks more easily with both students and parents, and find and share a wide variety of learning and support tools all through one interface. As we’ve said elsewhere, we believe that teachers and the digital classroom are the perfect match, and that this change is here to stay.
First things first, you might be shaking your head at the phrase ‘digital skills revolution’. But we’re talking about an actual thing, not just buzzwords! Digital skills are core competencies in the use of computers, digital teaching aids and VLEs. What we want is to bring about a revolution in how these skills are learned and put to use in classrooms. Read on and you’ll see what we mean.
What are the problems we’re facing?
We won’t go in depth on all the issues facing the education sector right now, not in these few hundred words! There are clearly though a number of problems- although we would like to call them opportunities- that specifically relate to digital skills and classroom management that we think are more important than most teachers realise.
First, we’re facing a dire lack of digital skills for teachers. Present company is, of course, excepted; but in the sector more widely there are far too many teachers who struggle with projectors, let alone white boards, tablets and laptops.
At the same time, a virtual learning environment for schools has been put in place, but not understood by management, teachers or students. Rather, software for online teaching isn’t engaging students. In fact, software for online teaching is being used for little more than posting summaries of previous lessons, and that has to change.
What can we do to change?
The first thing we have to do is to grow our own skill sets. We have to become better acquainted with our VLEs and the physical tech we use every day. Improving digital skills for teachers through training can be as simple as reading the manual, spending some time practicing, or even receiving training, which these days can include the plethora of uploaded YouTube how-to films on just about any skill imaginable.
What next? We have to dramatically improve how digital skills for teachers are then implemented in the classroom. This takes a bit of creativity. Teachmag has some great ideas on classroom management that you can find here [http://www.teachmag.com/archives/3574], which cover things as basic as classroom organisation.
We also have to reach out to the students themselves, and let them know that VLEs are not an optional extra, but an essential tool in their learning. Software for online teaching is, let’s face it, not as entertaining as YouTube; but accessing it and using it should be as serious a task as physically going to class. The end goal should always be a virtual learning environment for schools that reaches out to students and improves their time in school.
What’s our end goal?
It’s our firm belief that online teaching platforms that aren’t used effectively; online teaching platforms that aren’t taken seriously by either students or teachers are more detriment than learning aid. But their benefits are so obvious [http://www.quickclass.net/virtual-learning-environment-for-teachers/]!
The time that educational software saves for teachers, and the improved results that it can help students achieve, aren’t just our end goal: they should be the end goal of every teacher.