TPACK

Monday, May 5th, 2014 | education, technology | Comments Off

TPACK (Technology Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) … this is what I will focus on during the weeks to come!

TPACK framework (source:  http://tpack.org)

TPACK framework (source: http://tpack.org)

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Technology patches for education

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | education, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ample evidence exists that technology can make a huge difference in education. Many teachers in South Africa use technology right now to improve their own teaching and to help learners to learn better.

Some teachers use interactive classroom devices to keep learners interested and involved in learning material. Others have flipped their classrooms: learners access content at home on mobile devices and teachers then use class time for stimulating discussions and making practical application of the material. Older computer labs are still used with great benefit by teachers for reinforcement, drill-and-practice and research. In all these cases teachers report significant improvements in learning outcomes.

However, we have not seen that technology has improved the quality of education in general. Pockets of excellence exist, which proves the potential value of technology in education, but in the vast majority of schools in South Africa technology has had no impact on education outcomes (even in some schools flush with technology).

Technology is a wonderful patch to improve teaching and learning.

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

But why can’t the patches stick? It has been said that one can’t put a new patch on an old garment. Why? Because the fabric of the old garment may be too weak to hold the patch and so the patch is simply torn off.

Is this the problem in education? Is the education system so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system? If so, what can we do about the situation?

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Selfie – word of the year

Monday, December 9th, 2013 | trends | Comments Off

It was recently announced that the word of the year 2013 is selfie.

What is a selfie?  It is defined by the Oxford Dictionary Online as:

… a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

We’ve all seen people taking selfies.  A picture is needed to complete a profile for a social medium or blog or other online engagement, and the easiest way to do so is to turn your cell phone around and snap.

The word selfie was first used in 2002 in an Australian online forum, and has steadily gained popularity until it was so widely used (both the word and the action) that it became word of the year in 2013.

A selfie in progress

A selfie in progress

It is wonderful how language evolves – new words are born every day and ubiquitous technology is accelerating the process.  Now that it’s the word of the year, teachers will have to accept selfie when a learner uses it in an essay.

I wonder when LOL and b4 will gain the same acceptance.

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Poor ANA grade 9 results: can technology improve them?

Sunday, December 8th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

The results of the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) for 2013 have been released this week by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.

The progress in most cases is encouraging; the different initiatives to improve matters seem to have had an impact.  Minister Motshekga said: “I am confident that performance in the education system is on an upward trend and all our interventions and programmes are beginning to produce the desired outcomes.”

One of the areas where progress was less than satisfactory is Grade 9 mathematics.  In 2012 the national average was 13%.  An improvement of 1% was made during the past year … but the fact remains that only 14% of Grade 9 learners are on standard in mathematics.

If anyone disputes this statistic: a special task team looked into the way the tests were conducted and confirmed that the assessment was fair, valid and reliable.  This means that the situation is really as bad as the ANA results indicate!

So what can we do about the matter?

Technology - a powerful tool to help develop mathematics skills

Technology – a powerful tool to help develop mathematics skills

Many initiatives and interventions will likely be launched to remedy the situation.  I believe, however, that there is one option that is underestimated: the use of technology.

Many superb software programs are available to assist learners with mathematics.  One such program is CAMI, a South African product, fully integrated with our CAPS curriculum.  CAMI can be used in schools with school laboratories, and is also available in the form of a home version for parents who want to sharpen the mathematics skills of their children at home.

The value of products such as CAMI is that it covers mathematics from Grade R to Grade 12.  Those learners who perform below par in a specific grade can be diagnosed with regards to gaps in their understanding and will then be directed to material to remedy the situation.  Through regular use of the programme, learners are helped to learn concepts and practise skills necessary to perform well in mathematics.  By using this program, schools and learners around the world have already dramatically improved their performance levels in mathematics.

Should we not investigate technology as an option to improve mathematic outcomes?

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Is there still a place for computer labs in schools?

Sunday, December 1st, 2013 | Computer Usage | Comments Off

With the growing trend towards mobility and the popularity of tablets in the field of education, is there still a role for a dedicated computer laboratory (lab)?

There is most definitely a place for both. The whole idea of using tablets (or other mobile devices) is for learners to have continuous access to technology as a learning tool. A computer lab has the disadvantage of being physically separated from the classroom, hence making it more difficult for the teacher to integrate classroom teaching with what technology can offer. However, until such a time that every child in a school has a mobile device, the computer lab will continue to fulfil an important role: it may be the only way in which to bring every learner in touch with technology.

It therefore makes sense to keep the computer room in good repair, while phasing in mobile devices – in big schools this may take a few years, owing to the high cost of technology. The need for a computer lab can be re-evaluated once a one-to-one state has been achieved, but until then, resist the temptation to dismantle the computer room in favour of mobile devices.

My advice to learning institutions is to continue using whatever technology is available, making sure that it is used optimally, and then adding more and new technologies.

[This is an extract from a recently published interview … click here to read the full article.]

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Tablets will not transform education

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 | Tablet, trends | Comments Off

“What a bold statement,” you may say, “particularly in view of the current proliferation of tablets and other mobile devices.”

Well, consider history.

In 1922 Thomas Edison reportedly said:

I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize [transform] our education system and that in a few years it will supplant the use of textbooks … The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture where it should be possible to obtain 100 percent efficiency.

Did this expectation come true?  In spite of the fact that some teachers used motion pictures with great success in their schools, we know that this medium did not manage to transform the education system.  What went wrong?

Edison based his prediction on a number of assumptions about this potentially powerful tool:

Content: He assumed that sufficient relevant content will be available in film format to cover all learning areas for all grades.

Affordable and available equipment: He assumed that motion picture equipment will be affordable and will be made available to every classroom.

Technology stability: He assumed that the motion picture will not be replaced by other technologies in the short to medium term, and will continue to be the first choice technology for entertainment and education of the masses.

Classroom integration: He assumed that all teachers will become skilled in using motion pictures as a substitute for textbooks and will change their teaching practices accordingly.

We now know that none of these assumptions proved to be true.  Yet, in later years, the same assumptions were made with regards to radio, TV, PCs, laptops, interactive whiteboards … and are now being made about tablets.  Let’s look at these assumptions again:

Content: In contrast with the erroneous assumption about content availability when the 1922 motion picture prediction was made, we can safely assume today that sufficient digital content is available as ebooks, educational software and even open education resources.  But now we are making another assumption: learners (and their teachers) will know how to find their way through the plethora of available content; the current under-utilization of such resources proves that this assumption is wrong.  This is clearly a case where more is not better, and the mere availability of content in no way guarantees that it will be used.

Affordable and available equipment: This is a more risky assumption; tablets are less costly than its PC and laptop predecessors, but how much will it cost – and how long will it take – to provide every child in the country with a tablet? For education to be transformed, more than a sporadic presence of technology is required; every teacher and child needs access to technology for it to have a significant effect.

Technology stability: Technologies have replaced each other rather rapidly over the years and the rate of change is accelerating; we can’t assume that the tablet as we know it today will be the device of choice in a year or two from now.  In fact, based on the history of technology, we can safely assume that it won’t!

Classroom integration: This is the most dangerous assumption of them all; it can almost be stated as a fact that it will take years – many, many years – to train and educate all our teachers to become comfortable in using technology for teaching and learning.

The flawed assumptions made in 1922 about a particular manifestation of technology are still being made today.  And we’ve only discussed four of them.

Until these suppositions become realities we can’t expect the tablet, or any other technology device, to revolutionize education.  A mere change in tools does not bring about transformation.

The full potential of technology can only be achieved if it is part of a complete rethink of education structures and practices.

Tablets will not transform education … unless we empower our teachers to become skilful users of technology!

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What is crowd speaking?

Monday, November 4th, 2013 | Blogging, technology | Comments Off

Most readers of this blog have the same thoughts about the use of technology in education.  Don’t you feel that it should be made a reality in our schools?

To give expression to our thoughts we may individually blog or tweet – we may even retweet a message when it resonates with us.  But our individual voices are soft and it frustrates us when we feel that we are not heard.

If a crowd of us speaks in unison, perhaps this will make a difference.

Picture credit: Wikipedia

Picture credit: Wikipedia

This is where “crowd speaking” becomes a possibility.  How can the crowd of us like-minded people speak together?  Social media provide the platform, and a tool like Thunderclap can concentrate our individual voices into one massive thunderclap.

It works like this: one person posts a message and others are then invited to allow Thunderclap to share that message on their behalf at a specific time.  The impact can be great.  For example, if 100 people agree with my message and give consent that it be sent to all their Twitter followers or Facebook friends, and each one of them has 100 connections, the message will go out to 10 000 people simultaneously!  What a powerful amplification of my small voice!

As an experiment, I have posted a message on Thunderclap.  Please participate, and ask your contacts to do the same.  Click here, and follow the instructions.  If this trial works, it may prove to be a valuable tool to get our message broadcasted … and hopefully heard!

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Free tool to help you to create an interactive classroom

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 | education, Gadgets | Comments Off

Since the launch of the Beta version of Qurio at the annual African Education Week conference in June 2013, EDGE Campus has been hard at work in simplifying this tool even further.  More features have been added, making Qurio applicable to a wider audience.

The new Qurio will be launched towards the end of October 2013.

Can this tool help you to create an interactive classroom?

Can this tool help you to create an interactive classroom?

What is Qurio?  It’s a web based tool that simplifies audience interaction and data collection by allowing anyone to create and distribute digital tests, quizzes, opinion polls and surveys with ease.  EDGE Campus claims that, compared to the tools currently used for these purposes, the new Qurio is simpler to use and works across a wider range of devices.

Qurio has been made freely available to all school teachers; in addition it’s making steady headway into the lecture environment where it is being trialled on a number of campuses as a virtual clicker/audience response system.

Lectures, events, conferences, workshops: none of these have to be one dimensional any longer. Owing to Qurio’s low data consumption and ease of access via any internet connected device, speakers can easily interact with their audiences and receive instantaneous feedback.

A unique Qurio Code distribution system links each respondent to a particular Qurio through either a URL, or a short code.  This makes Qurio well suited for digital and non-digital communication environments, such as print, radio and television. It’s just a matter of sharing the code with the audience, either by writing it on a blackboard, putting it up on a screen or sending it out via email or social media.

EDGE Campus has created additional resources to assist users in understanding how it works.  “We realized that eyes light up when folks see how simple it is to use Qurio. Because we haven’t completed our demo-mode yet, we decided to create some explainer videos and a few documents to show people how awesome it is without having to sign up and trying it for themselves,” says the developer.

While their passion lies in education, EDGE Campus realizes the value that Qurio can add to a host of other fields and they encourage anyone who may be interested to give it a try.

If you want to find out more about Qurio go to their Keep It Simple website, where you will also be able to sign up to be notified of the October launch.

You can connect with EDGE Campus on Twitter (@edge_campus) or on Facebook (EDGECampusHQ) or send an email if you require further information (info@edgecampus.co.za).

[This is a guest post, written by Gareth Heuer of EDGE Campus.]

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Will clickers make your classroom interactive?

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | education, technology | Comments Off

Clickers – also called voting devices – allow learners in a classroom to respond simultaneously to questions posed by their teacher.  Some teachers use cell phones (already in the pockets of learners) for the same purpose.  It is claimed that harnessing technology in this way results in an interactive classroom.

How does it work?  The teacher asks a question – typically a multiple choice one – and allows learners to use a clicker or cell phone to select the correct answer.  The results are collated and if a data projector is available, a graph can be displayed immediately, showing how many selected the correct answer.

Clickers can be a useful continuous assessment tool in classrooms.  But does the use of this technology transform the classroom into an interactive one?  Not necessarily.

A graph showing learner responses

A graph showing learner responses

The mere fact that children interact with a piece of technology does not guarantee that they are interacting with the learning material.  When the teacher displays the results graph and learners see whether they were right or wrong, and how many in the class were right or wrong, this also does not guarantee interaction; it is the same as handing a marked test paper back to learners.

But when the teacher uses the information gained from the voting exercise to reason with the learners, interactivity can happen.  For example, she may ask those learners who chose the wrong answer for the reasons for their choice.  Likewise, she can ask the learners who chose the correct answer to defend their choice.  In this way a lively discussion between learners will be triggered, with the teacher guiding the discussion so that the learners can draw correct conclusions.  Now we have an interactive classroom!

The value of technology in this case is that of a catalyst for interactivity.  In the same way as certain chemicals act as catalysts to let other chemicals react with one another, voting devices can spark off interactivity.  Interactivity happens between learners and learners, between learners and the teacher, and between learners and the learning material.  The technology is only the catalyst, but all depends on how the teacher uses it!

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Make your classroom interactive by using a visualizer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Gadgets, technology | Comments Off

Teachers, do you want to make your classrooms more interactive?   A visualizer may be just the piece of equipment that you require.

A visualizer – also called a visual presenter, digital visualizer or a document camera – is a digital camera which, connected to your computer, allows you to display images through a data projector.  It functions in the same way as the old overhead projector, but with all the additional benefits that modern technology offers.

You can use a visualizer to display a page of a textbook, allowing you to zoom in, highlight text and make annotations.  Whatever is done, can be saved; it is no longer necessary for learners to spend valuable time to take down notes.  A good visualizer will allow you to record the work you are displaying, as well as your voice, so that the entire lesson can be made available for revision, or for those learners who could not attend class.

At times you may want learners to see a real item – not a picture.  This can be a challenge if the item is very small, particularly if you’re teaching natural science or biology and you want learners to observe details that can’t be detected with the naked eye.  Some visualizers have a microscopic function … just imagine how useful that would be in a class.  Learners can remain at their seats while you zoom in on detail; it is no longer necessary for them to queue up to get a turn looking through a microscope.

Have you ever done a science experiment while forty learners are crowding around you to see what’s happening?  Doing the experiment on the display surface of a visualizer allows learners to view the experiment in real time from their individual desks.  Snapshots at certain stages of the experiment can be taken and then incorporated in later discussions, future lessons or revision sessions.

Whereas a scanner limits you to displaying two dimensional images, a visualizer allows you to display two or three dimensional items.  When you rotate or move objects, learners can see the details of the object from different angles.

With a document camera in the class, any object can be viewed as the opportunity presents itself – in this way spontaneity is added to your classroom … and isn’t this what interactivity is all about.

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