Saturday, February 26, 2011

Transforming teaching and learning

This week I downloaded an article, How Web Based Tools Change Teaching and Learning, from Tech & Learning that states in its introduction:
Using technology is key to transforming schools into efficient and effective learning communities if the right classroom strategies and methods are used.
I was thinking about this article today as I'm off to our school's chalet in the Alps for a weekend of winter sports - the first time I went to this chalet just over a year ago was for an IT retreat there.  At the time the whole tech department were asked to produce a short 5 minute talk about something that was important to them, something that would impact on our students' learning in the future.  We had talks on various subjects such as robotics and whether or not we should stick with one platform (Mac) or move to a dual platform as some Computer Science courses in the high school were being taught on Macs that were being run as PCs.  One of the members of the IT department made a presentation called Why Cloud Computing will Fail.  I made one called If It Ain't Web 2.0 It'll Die.  As you can see we have a diversity of opinions in our department - which leads to healthy discussion.

In the past year we have definitely seen more of a learning focus and less of a technology focus and we have spoken a lot about how technology can transform the learning, rather than just enhance it.  Our students are familiar with many Web 2.0 tools and as I have always said "free is a nice price".  We've been able to introduce many new tools to our students and been able to give then real choices about how they show their understanding - and it has cost us next to nothing.  This year the only money we've spent has been on very cheap apps for the iPod Touches and iPad.  We have some money set aside for subscriptions or upgrades to some of the Web 2.0 tools we use - but so far this year we haven't needed to upgrade anything.  We've tried different methods of running PD, offering specific sessions, just-in-time drop in sessions and emailing suggestions out with short video clips so that teachers can "teach themselves" and upgrade their skills.  For a lot of our teachers the times they come with their students to the labs or the times we go to their rooms with the laptops are also a form of PD as they learn alongside their class.

I'm wondering where we go from here.  From Grade 3 upwards we have laptops - currently a ratio of about 1:4.  I'm asking myself should we be asking for more, should we be really pushing for more of a 1:2 (or eventually even a 1:1) programme for our students?  And if so, where should we be introducing this first?  In our primary school, in our middle school or in our high school?  And what should these 1:1 devices actually be?  Laptops, netbooks, iPods, iPads, tablets?

This year we introduced Google Apps for Education.  We started with Grades 4 and 5, spread down to Grade 3 and then up to the Middle School in Grades 6-8.  Our Grades 3-5 have been so successful with using technology this year that my inclination would be to push for a better ratio of computers to students in this area first.  Research has shown that students in schools with a 1:1 learning programme that is properly implemented are the most successful of all.

However I can see that some teachers and some parents are reluctant to push for even more technology.  In the Middle and High Schools I have had conversations with parents who have said they are concerned about how much our students are using their computers just to "socialize".  Because parents have expressed concern about their students using so much social media, we've decided to put on a couple of parent sessions next month.  An outside speaker has also been invited who has a fairly negative view of "screen time".  I feel we have a challenge on our hands now to show parents the positives and to let them know that our role as a school is to help students to learn to use the tools to learn, as well as to socialize.

I feel that trying to "turn back the clock" is only going to be counter-productive.  Students need to be able to use various technologies to prepare them for the world of work.  The Pew report states that by 2020 most people will access software applications online and share and access information through the use of remote server networks rather than depending on tools and information houses on their computers.  It's clear from this report that cloud computing will become more dominant than the desktop over the next few years.

It's therefore our job to prepare students for this shift.  The cloud is used for social networking, webmail, blogging and microblogging and sharing of media such as video and pictures.  There is also a big shift to using the cloud to store documents and for social bookmarking.  In fact as teachers we don't really have a choice - businesses are increasingly online and they want their employees to be there too.  The universities our students are going to once they leave school are also providing access to their course materials online and they are expecting the students to be able to access and use these.  And already we are reading that within 10 years your online presence will replace your resume and that employers will come and find you.

I think the biggest shift for our students today is the anytime/anyplace approach, learning is 24/7 and on demand, and teachers are starting to use more reverse instruction where students are learning at home and doing (to show their understanding of their learning) at school.  Web 2.0 has changed the focus to communication, collaboration and creation.  We are in the middle of the tech transformation.  It's an exciting time to be in education.

Photo Credit:  iPhone sunset in the Andes by Gonzalo Baeza Hern├índez

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