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Cellphones in the classroom – an African perspective

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Through the network of teachers in my PLN I have the privilege of meeting some amazing educators from all over South Africa. One such teacher is Robyn Clark of Sekolo sa Borokgo, an independent school in Johannesburg. We met up at a conference in Pretoria last year and met up again at a conference in Durban last month when we both shared as speakers. What I love about Robyn is her willingness to embrace challenge and change as well as her drive to be a teacher who makes a real difference in her pupils’ lives.

Robyn’s innovative and open approach to the use of cellphones in her classroom is evident of her desire to use the tools available to her pupils to teach them more effectively. The recent call to ban cellphones from schools in South Africa (a short-sighted and, quite frankly, ridiculous call) by the National Association of School Governing Bodies elicited a great deal of response in the media. With emotional responses on both sides of the argument, it is good to see a piece of balanced journalism from China Network Television who recently visited Robyn’s school to see how they were using mobile phones as a tool for learning.

Televised insert available here: http://english.cntv.cn/program/africalive/20120518/100250.shtml

I wonder how the National Association of School Governing Bodies would respond to this?

Well done Robyn!  You are an inspiration to your fellow-educators. Thank-you for being a difference-maker!

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Transformation before technology!

Changing an outdated industrial-age paradigm of education to a relevant 21st century one will take more than simply adding technology. This piece by Will Richardson sums up my sentiments around this issue so well that I simply had to quote his blog post – I cannot say it better than this!

From the “I Know I Keep Saying This But I Just Can’t Stop Dept.” comes yet another example of how out of whack our language is when talking about what student learning should be. In this long,celebratory piece from the Las Vegas Sun today we learn that students at a Nevada charter school have had their learning “transformed” at the Explore Knowledge Academy, the state’s first iSchool. And the path to transformation? The iPad, of course.

“The world has changed; the expectations in the workforce have changed,” said Abbe Mattson, EKA’s executive director. “You can’t even work at a McDonald’s without using a touch screen. … If we don’t change how we teach, it’s a disservice to our kids.”

Grrrrr…

In the six months since its technology infusion, EKA has become a model of what the classrooms of the 21st century might look like in Clark County.  Although some students found learning to use the new technology challenging, most took to digital learning immediately, Mattson said.  “It’s like second nature for the students,” she said. “They’re open to trying this and they’re used to this multimedia access.”

Students use the iPads to access educational websites and applications as well as electronic textbooks. They use the iPad to take notes and the tablet’s camera to photograph whiteboards filled with teacher’s lessons and chemistry formulas. Some even record lectures using the iPad’s digital voice recorder or video camera, referring to them when they review for tests.

“I love them,” eighth-grader Alexa Freeman, 13, said of the iPads. “They’re super fast and easy to use.”

Wow…

And, finally…wait for it…

Educators say the potential payoff of this digital education is enormous, even though it’s still unproven if this nascent technology will increase student achievement. Educational games and visual applications attempt to make learning fun and keep students’ attention, which should translate to better test scores, teachers say.  “If you can get kids engaged, they’ll learn,” Mattson said. “These iPads will help get kids engaged.”

Learning = better test scores. And so it goes…

Look, I know that this here blog has not been all happy, happy lately. I know my cynicism is seeping through more that even I would like. I know I need to get focused on the good, seriously transformative things that some “bold” schools are doing, and I will, I promise. Really.

But I also know that if we keep allowing stories like these to set the bar for change, we’re shortchanging our kids. It’s yet another example of conflating teaching and learning, of not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support. Transformation in this sense means shifting the balance of power to the learner. And I know that starts way before we put a piece of technology in a kid’s hands. But with that power, the technology becomes a much richer, more valuable tool for learning.

I just feel like we have to keep calling this what it is: old wine in new bottles.

Original article

 

 

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An Illusion Of Modernity

Mostly technology in school offers an “illusion of modernity” – automating routine tasks like word processing, or watching a teacher having fun at the smartboard. If students do get online in school – it often involves viewing “filtered” web content with limited functionality.  Of course students need lessons in “digital hygiene.” But curating all their web content and interactions doesn’t teach them responsible use, it just sequesters them behind a firewall. “Suspicion invites treachery” ~ Voltaire

This quote is taken from an excellent blog post by Peter Pappas. The idea of schools creating an “illusion of modernity” is also true for teachers. There are many teachers who seemingly embrace technology without truly understanding the concept of 21st century learning. I fear that in many classrooms old paradigms are continued with new technologies.

Two things are needed if we are to avoid this:

1) An open mind

2) A willingness to learn new pedagogies which reflect the reality of the 21st century

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The Literacy Imperative

I am unashamedly an eager proponent of the use of technology in education. I passionately enthuse about the role of social media and am constantly amazed at the arsenal of technical gadgetry teachers now have at their disposal.

Today I saw firsthand how critical it has become for us not simply to bring these web tools and gadgets into our classrooms but also to teach digital literacy to our pupils. As I waited to be served at our local copyshop, a lady walked in and began a conversation which went something along these lines :

Assistant : May I help you?

Lady : Yes, I want to look at the computer.

Assistant : What would you like to do?

Lady : I want to use the computer.

Assistant : Would you like to print something?

Lady : No, I want to find something.

Assistant : What would you like to find?

Lady : I want to find a job.

Assistant : So you want to use the internet.

Lady : Yes.

At this point the shop assistant walked the lady over to one of the computers and explained how the payment for internet services would work. She then left the lady and came back to serve customers. I watched with interest as the lady opened Internet Explorer and discovered that Google was the homepage. She typed in “Worcester jobs” and waited. After a minute she realised that nothing was happening and looked around helplessly. Fortunately for her at that moment a friend of hers entered the shop. The friend showed the lady that she had to use the mouse to push the “Google Search” button. As the search results came up showing over 3 million results she sat staring at the screen clearly overwhelmed. Her friend suggested clicking on one of the search results and they both then sat looking at the resulting site. They then returned to the search results and the process repeated. This went on for about 10 minutes. It appeared to be a complete waste of time as at no point was anything transcribed from the sites or email enquiries sent. After the final site visit the lady visited the counter, paid her money and left.

It was painfully obvious that this woman had little or no knowledge of how to use a search engine properly or even how to navigate around an internet browser. I could not help but wonder what kind of job she was looking for. There cannot be many jobs in the marketplace today that don’t require some sort of basic digital literacy and so I fear that her chances of landing a job are drastically reduced if what I saw reflected her ability on a computer.

Although I am tired of the clichéd “preparing our pupils for the 21st century” (we’re 10 years into the 21st century – its arrived!), it does ring true that if we are serious about sending our pupils into the world with the knowledge, skills and values required for success, we have no choice but to be taking the teaching of digital literacy very seriously indeed.

As much as it is nice to speak of what teachers can do with Web 2.0 tools and interactive software and so on, the first priority in the classroom must be to teach our children to use a computer. In a middle to upper income stream school, we can safely assume that most of our children will know that basics of keyboard  and mouse use, and have some experience in basic word processing skills. They will most likely also have explored the internet at some point and will have used various interactive tools such as video games in their lifetime. There are however many communities in our country where this is not the case. Communities where computer use is considered a luxury and where the priority is survival not bandwidth.

The digital divide is very real. How we solve it is a complicated and lengthy process which must involve government departments, NGOs, corporates and so on. In the meantime, schools have to be teaching the basics. I salute the Khanya Project for their efforts in this (see this post as well).

I still cringe at the thought that there are 4,7 million illiterate adults in our country and a further 4,9 million adults who are functionally illiterate (figures from Project Literacy). If this figure is to improve we have to continue improving the literacy programs in our schools and at the same time bring digital literacy into our curricula and classroom practice. This has to be a priority for all those involved in education and for any who care about the future of our wonderful land.