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The Digital Classroom

This is the full version for the article published in Jewish life.  

To understand the need for a change from the conventional type of classroom to a digital age classroom, the following question needs to be asked:

“What do our pupils need to learn today to be prepared for tomorrow?”

“We are currently preparing pupils for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t know yet are problems” Richard Riley US Former Secretary of Education

Technology is affecting our lives endlessly; education experts, principals and teachers acknowledge the potential of Technology or ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) in teaching and learning. Most teachers wonder what gadgets/ skills/ qualities are required in order to establish digital age classrooms.

There are three main fundamentals to consider when schools want to establish a digital classroom.  These are:

  1. Technical – Infrastructure, connectivity, software , hardware and gadgets
  2. HR -Teachers’ skills
  3. HR – Maintenance and technical support

One must begin the journey by doing the appropriate planning and preparation, as one of the biggest obstacles experienced by schools when starting to implement digital classrooms is lack of a strategy. Schools should begin with a strategy that addresses technical issues and plans to upgrade the teachers’ ICT skills.  Ensuring proper technical support is also essential. Schools need to have a vision of where they want to go. They need to assess where they are now, and then they need to strategise how they are going to reach their vision of the “digital age classroom”.

Education experts note that pupils need to be equipped with the following skills:

1.  Basic technical skills

1.1   Use of internet (Search, Social Networking, implication of digital footprints, Safety)

2.1   Proficiency in the use of Microsoft applications

3.1   Typing skills

4.1   Internet Copyright

5.1   Citing resources from the net

6.1   Apps on mobile phones and tablets (search, use, develop)

2.  Critical thinking skills – pupils need to be equipped with the skills of life-long learning. This is a self disciplined and self directed skill that enables pupils to adapt to change throughout their lives.

3. Analytical thinking skills – pupils are “bombarded” with information that is at their finger tips, but they need to be able to sift through the information and use only what is needed

4. Communication skills – on a personal to virtual level, peoples’ relationships are based on  communication skills.

5. Creativity and innovation – our pupils need to be able to think creatively to cope with the constant changes occurring in their lives. These skills are useful in every sphere including entrepreneurship and in the business world.

What does the Digital age classroom entail?

The roles of the teachers in a digital classroom remain the same as in an ordinary classroom, i.e, facilitating learning, assessing, correcting, reinforcing and management, but the tools required for the teacher to fulfil her roles differ.

What skills do teachers need to ensure they impart the required ICT skills to students? I believe that teachers need to be lifelong learners and that they continuously need to develop themselves professionally. Teachers need to be adventurous and use pupils’ digital skills while facilitating learning.

Gadgets / tools for the digital teacher:

When considering the introduction of tools and gadgets into the digital classroom the following characteristics of the learning environments should be considered (based on Florida Centre for instructional technology Matrix)

1.Active – Active use of the tool and not passively receiving information

2.Collaborative -Pupils use technology to collaborate with others rather than working individually at all times

3.Constructive -Pupils use technological tools to build understanding rather than simply receive information

4.Authentic- Pupils use technological tools to solve real-world problems

5.Goal Directed -Pupils use technological tools to set goals, plan activities, monitor progress, and evaluate results, rather than simply completing assignments without reflection.

Minimal requirement for the digital classroom:

A teacher must have a laptop and a data projector in her/ his classroom. Later on, this can be upgraded to include Interactive Whiteboards, Tablets/ iPads. Connectivity to Internet is essential in order for teachers to source information and to be able to communicate with pupils and parents. Use of emails is a basic skill and can be used for communicating with parents and for sending homework, assignments or catch-up work to sick pupils. With more advanced technologies, teachers, parents and pupils access a portal, which is a special website designed by the school, to retrieve information and to communicate.

No more chalk and talk – Take out your cell phones and let’s start learning!!

Yes, mobile phones can be used to:

1. Take photos/ videos as part of a HW assignment / portfolio

2. Use cell phones as Clickers. Clickers or classroom performance systems (CPS) are remote control- like gadgets that are used in an interactive way. Teacher can pose questions to the pupils and receive an immediate response which can be viewed, saved, analysed and displayed.  Buying these clickers may be an unnecessary expense which can be avoided by using the following website http://www.polleverywhere.com/

Using Technology for consolidation and differentiation

One of the biggest challenges a teacher has is to accommodate both strong and weak learners. By creating tutorials teachers can provide revision tasks and visualise a concept for children to review at any time.  This is especially useful when pupils have missed a lesson or misunderstood a concept.

The following technology can be used for consolidation and differentiation:

1. Recording a lesson using a  video camera, edit the movie using Microsoft Live Movie Maker on PC or iMovies on Mac

2. Screen casting – simple and user-friendly (Khan Style), recording of the tutorial is done on your laptop using slides or images and your voice. This requires some preparation and the following sites with free downloads can be used as your resource – (http://www.screencast.com/ or Jing – http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html )

3.Create a YouTube channel and post all your videos and Screen casting. No need to re-invent a lesson every year if it is available on the channel

4. Podcasting – voice recording of a lesson with Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) for example and sharing via Voicethread http://ed.voicethread.com/

How do schools achieve their vision of establishing digital classrooms?

Schools must have a Professional Development Plan for teachers to ensure that they can meet the demands of the digital age classroom, and so that they can gradually progress from basic integration of ICT to a total transformation where the learning is in the hands of the teachers and the pupils.

ORT SA has been at the forefront of technology integration in education for many years. It has recently been accredited as a Microsoft IT Academy and is running Computer training offering  basic to advanced courses.  For more information about ORT SA and these courses contact: ariellah@ortsa.org.za

“Technology will never replace teachers however teachers who don’t know how to use them will be replaced by those who do” (Unknown)

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Reflections from Google Academy 2010

Going to the Google Teachers Academy (GTA) in London this year, somehow felt as if I was on a missionary task, representing South Africa and ORT SA, the NGO I work for, may have added to this sense of feeling.  Back from London, this missionary sentiment has shifted to recovering from the intense overload of information experienced, the overwhelming experience of meeting the most amazing and remarkable people – teachers from all over the world that share the same passion in ICT integration  and education.  This year, I was also privileged to take part in “Feuerstein Training” and the “Leader in Me” (based on Covey’s 7 habits) which has now given me the desire to share the knowledge I have gained.

“Google”, a word that has become a vocabulary terminology to the word “Search” is more than a “Search engine company”.

Most of us have become accustomed to going straight to our handhelds devices to “Google” for terms, information, definitions, prices, locations … you name it! So what else can we learn about this search engine?  The answer is – – – there is more than meets the eye.

First, take some time to check the extra features offered when searching. This appears on the left hand side of Google’s page after you have clicked on the term you have searched for.

 Some examples:

  • Latest – provides immediate results for the term
  • Timeline – Your term appears in timeline
  •  Wonder wheel – a great tool that outlines your term in a sort of “mind map” and therefore helps to eliminate what you don’t need.  This is great to enhance keywords skills
  • The images section is mind-blowing;  you can select images similar to a specific one, select images according to a colour, and more and more to suit the creative amongst us

As said previously, Google is more than a “search engine”. It is a platform to create, share and collaborate.  Google Documents (similar to Word, Excel and Power Point Presentations) has the unique feature of working on a document in a collaborative way.  You can count on Google to go a step ahead.  For example, “Google Moderator” is a tool designed to get people’s feedback, questions, and requests on a specific issue. What a great way to collect queries from participants before your seminar.

Since very young, I hated roller coasters and avoided going on them with various excuses. GTA was like a rollercoaster (Anaconda type).  Especially since the climb and anticipation for the event took longer than the exhilarating ride itself.  The feeling of dizziness when getting off the rollercoaster is similar to the feeling when the seminar ended.  Now with the Adrenalin being felt, there is that addictive feeling of wanting more.  I guess it’s up to each individual to recreate this type of ride in their own niche of work and life.

ORT SA will be offering Workshops on Google Applications in business and in teaching. Workshops will be offered in Johannesburg in October and November.

Happy Mother’s Day

 Happy and Blessed Supermom’s Day

Numeracy Project in Alexandra

This presentation is a summary of the Interim Study conducted by JET on a Numeracy project ORT SA runs in Alexandra. This project aims at improving Numeracy teaching and learning.  With a lot of work, dedication and sweat- It looks like Alexandra township Foundation Phase is moving ahead!

Technology innovation in education

In the recent ICT Conference held in Durban organized by Schoolnet and sponsored by INTEL, prestigious speakers from around the world were invited to share how they perceive 21st century education.

The following words and phrases were reiterated by the speakers alongside technology: Collaboration, innovation, peer-coaching, pedagogy and teachers’ professional development.

What I really liked about the conference is that the focus wasn’t on the new technologies and hi-tech gadgets but rather on teachers and pedagogy.

As Bruce Dixon, (Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation, http://www.aalf.org/) described the transformation of learning environments from Print media (in the 14th – 19th Century) through to broadcast era, (20th Century) he portrays the 21st century as the Collaborative age. Therefore ttransforming education is essential where ICT is embedded in the curriculum (as opposed to having ICT as a separate and disconnected subject).

BUT again highlighting that it is NOT the technology that makes the difference but the pedagogy.

The guidelines for changes to take place are directed by Prof. Symour Papert quote:

use of technology by children –
to do things they couldn’t do before
to do at level of complexity that was not done before”

Bruce, leaving us with yet another inspiring quote “laptop – an instrument whose music is ideas” reminding us that the evolution of innovation is by letting technology increase our pedagogical capacity to innovate.

What can technology innovation do to enhance education delivery?
(Think about the evolution from basic ICT skills to 1:1 laptop per learner)

  1. address learner diversity
  2. pedagogical innovation
  3. technology effectiveness and personalization
  4. effective means of assessment
  5. re-imaging curriculum which is relevant for 21st Century learning

Teachers who adopt technology will find that their teaching is leverage and powerful.

Ferruh Gurtis, Intel Turkey, reminded us that with all the efforts to achieve what is needed in 21st century education we need to keep in mind that “Computers aren’t magic- teachers are”!

There is no doubt that technology can assist education but in that saying we have to ensure that it is provided to ALL, together with the support, training and maintenance required.

And for that, I”m afraid, we need the policy makers and the long term vision. Inspiring teachers, I think, may just turn to be the easy part.

Integration Mobile technology in teaching

The following slideshare was created inspired by Professor Drori talk at the World ORT Wingate seminar 2009.

I hope that this short presentation will give you a “taste” of Prof. Drori’s  inspirational  speech.

Mobile technology seminar

On the 11th May 2009 18 delegates from ten countries gathered in London at World ORT headquarters for a seminar on wireless and mobile technology in education.

World ORT, celebrating its 130 year since established, has designed and delivered a world class, cutting edge seminar presenting participants with new technologies in education which I am hoping to share in this blog in the future.

Reflecting on the seminar and on the amazing people whom I had the privileged to meet, makes me think about the story of a shoe owner factory,  He decides to sends his two sales people to a rural area in Latin America (let’s leave Africa for a change).  The sales people are tasked to check the area and return with recommendations as to whether there is a market for his shoe business in this rural place.

The one sales person returns despondent and reports back “Ah, don’t waste your time, people are walking bare feet, no business opportunity there”

The other sales person returns back all excited “ this is such a great opportunity! Everybody  is walking bare feet”

As each of us returns to our country we need to seek the opportunities that wireless and mobile technology has for the enhancement of education. We must not despair because of “ time, infrastructure, funds etc” and find ways to enable implementation of technologies that will bring us closer to 21st century proficiency.

Please comment and share your experience with different technologies in your country.

If you are interested in collaborative projects drop me an email or comment in this space.

Thanking ORT SA for sending me to the seminar.

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