Classroom technology evolves. It always has done. Slate tablets become pencil and paper, which in turn become screen and keyboard. The abacus and slide rule become the calculator, and the blackboard becomes the smart board, by way of the whiteboard. The technology of the classroom is always changing, and will always continue to change. So, how do schools keep up and how do teachers adapt?
The usual reaction is to throw technology at the problem. Schools invest in laptops, tablets, touch-sensitive smart-boards? and other hardware that is promised to transform the classroom into a futuristic learning lab. But how many smart boards are rarely used, or serve only as glorified projector screens? Just like in many other areas, investing in the technology alone is not enough. Teachers need the skills to use the tools they are given.
The OECD’s PISA study highlighted this. Research last year looked at how technology impacts learning outcomes. It found that technology use in the classroom does not automatically result in higher achievements by students. In the case of mathematics, it found that performance declined when computers were used more.
We shouldn’t be too pessimistic. Technology can be transformative in education. It can give students the opportunity to learn at their own pace, and to learn in a way that works best for them; it can make learning accessible to students who might not otherwise have the opportunity; it can help teachers to present complicated or abstract topics, concepts or ideas, bringing them to life for students. Technology, particularly the internet, also provides teachers with a network of resources and support in developing lessons and learning experiences for their students. The possibilities that technology opens up are vast.
The key to unlocking the opportunities offered by educational technology is investing in teachers’ skills. It is surprising then, that many teachers feel a lack of confidence in their digital skills, and feel that they need further professional development to use ICT in education. According to another report from the OECD, “In a world where students must learn to navigate complex digital landscapes to succeed in the future, teachers play an important role, which poses high demands on their skills and competencies. This may be why, despite their relatively high skills, more than half of lower secondary teachers expressed the need for professional development of ICT skills for teaching.” A report from The Economist highlights that, ‘a majority of teachers say their students have a more advanced understanding of technology in their classrooms than they do.”
But what are the skills that teachers need to use ICT in education? Besides the basics of digital literacy like being able to stay safe online, using collaboration tools, work with documents, and presentations, there are a number of education specific sets of skills:
· Incorporating ICT in teaching strategies
· Using ICT to enhance lesson plans
· Understanding educational technology tools
· Critically evaluating the value of tools
· Understanding e-learning platforms, and how they fit in the teaching process
The classroom is changing, but without a teacher, a classroom is just a room. If we forget to keep teachers at the heart of using ICT in education, then we won’t be able to reap the benefits of digital learning. The physicist William Pollard said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” We shouldn’t think that yesterday’s approach to teachers’ skills will work in tomorrow’s classroom.