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.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?
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?
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?
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.
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 (email@example.com).
[This is a guest post, written by Gareth Heuer of EDGE Campus.]
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.
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!
Monday, June 24th, 2013 | education | Comments Off
Gone are the days when the smell of formaldehyde emanated from high school science class rooms; no longer is there a need to make the dissecting of frogs, rats, and other animals a strict requirement to be the top of the class.
Today’s budding high school scientists can wave that all goodbye as new technologies such as narrated computer software, step-by-step DVDs and lifelike manikins are being developed to help students gain practical, and even hands-on, knowledge of internal biological systems. This not only improves the lives of animals, decreases their capture in the wild, and eliminates the need for intentional breeding, but also marks great improvements for the educators and learners themselves.
“All animals are conscious, living beings. We look to our educators to teach our students to be respectful of all life, and to teach the value of that life,” says Erika Vercuiel, manager of the Animal Ethics Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA).
“There is no question that at times, medical research is needed, but we aim to replace, reduce and refine any process involving animals, especially at high school and first year university level.”
Countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Argentina, and Slovakia have already banned the use of animals in dissection at elementary and high school level. Several states in America have also passed policies that require schools to offer alternatives to dissection to those learners who do not wish to participate.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the United States, 95 percent of medical schools in that country, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and all Canadian medical schools, have discontinued the use of animal dissection for medical students and none expect or requires students to participate in animal dissection.
The PCRM reports that both students and educators prefer the use of simulation-based training to that of the use of animals. Studies have also concluded that learners engaged in alternative methods, such as interactive learning, narrated software, and DVDs, retain as much information – and in some cases even more – than students using animals.
“In addition, for schools not financially equipped to purchase animals for each student, each class, each year, along with costly lab equipment, the once-off fees for the purchase of alternatives are a welcomed affordable option,” says Vercuiel.
Lessons become more efficient, as the time spent preparing and cleaning the classroom, teaching etiquette, and explaining procedures is eradicated when alternatives are employed. In addition, educators can customise and save lesson plans for their students.
Utilising alternative methods to dissection, especially at high school level, teaches learners additional lessons and benefits that go well beyond the biology lab.
Vercuiel continues, “Making a stand in the classroom encourages students to become conscientious citizens, who respect animals and their environment. This type of compassion has been shown to overflow to the child’s surrounding family and community.”
On the other hand, an insensitive attitude towards animals, especially by adults the children has been taught to emulate, can actually be negative lesson for young learners.
Several alternatives are currently available such as interactive DVDs, lifelike models and interactive computer models. The DVDs include general notes for teachers, and introduction to the external features of the animal, then leads the learners through the digestive, urinogenital, circulatory system, nervous system, and skeleton systems.
For more information on the ethical alternatives to dissection please contact Erika Vercuiel firstname.lastname@example.org.
[This is a guest post by the National Council of SPCAs.]
Have you noticed how many e-learning conferences are held these days? And each one is touted by the organizers as a can’t afford to be missed event. Some of them are even called summits … adding a touch of grandiosity to the occasion.
How valuable are these conferences?
Having attended a good number of them over the last few years – and presented papers at many – I’ve developed some resistance to attending them; not all, but most of them.
Some e-learning conferences are simply a rehash of the same stuff: same themes, same topics, same speakers. Of course, some themes and topics remain relevant for a while. And some speakers (like Maggie Verster) are evergreens who stay on top of their subjects and always have something new to share (and even if you hear the same presentation more than once, you are inspired and enthused every time). But in general, why should we want to listen to repeats of known information?
Then there is the exorbitant price you have to pay to attend, often in Pounds, Dollars or Euros. It may sound less than when the price is quoted in Rands, but it’s a con – with the current exchange rate you’ll be paying a fortune.
The ultimate rip-off is when companies buy speaking slots to plug their products. This is done in different ways. Sign up as a platinum or gold sponsor, and you’re assured of keynote speaking slots … and you’re guaranteed a captive audience that will not leave their seats because they paid through their necks for them.
Earlier this year I had an experience with organizers of an e-learning conference that really jolted me. I submitted a proposal to deliver a paper at this conference. A few weeks later I received an email request for a company sponsorship. I passed it on to the marketing division of the company for which I am working. After consideration it was decided not to sponsor the event, and the organizers were informed. A few days later I received a call from the organizers and the conversation when something like this:
“We were wondering if you could talk to your company about a sponsorship,” the man said after we exchanged customary pleasantries.
“I’ve passed your request on to our marketing division, and I believe that they have communicated their decision to you,” I replied.
“Yes, the marketing folks decided that they will not give us a sponsorship. Is it possible that you can help us to change their minds about this?”
“I would not want to do that,” I said. “Our marketing guys know best what the company can afford and how the marketing budget should be spent.”
“It’s a pity,” the man said, and paused a few moments. “I notice that you have sent a proposal to deliver a paper.”
“Yes, I did, but I have not received any confirmation yet.”
“You see, that’s just the point. We’re currently going through the proposals and your chances to be accepted are increased considerably if your company gives us a sponsorship.”
I was speechless.
If my proposal was turned down because my topic was not appropriate to the theme of the conference, or the abstract was weak, or the organizers thought that I am not a good enough speaker, I would have accepted it without any argument; not all proposals fit and not all are accepted.
What is the implication? Those presentations that you and I pay to see are often selected, not on the basis of the merit of the material to be presented, but because the slot has been bought.
Does this mean all conferences are suspect? Not at all! Conferences remain a valuable way to gain and share knowledge and experience. But before you sign up for the next conference, check who the sponsors are, who the speakers are, what their topics are, how much you have to pay to attend … also who the event organizer is … and then decide whether attending this event will be a good investment.
Beware of the conference scam!
Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 | education, ICT in Africa | Comments Off
After the 2012 matric results were announced last week, the media – particularly the social media – were abuzz with comments from education authorities celebrating the results and defending the not-so-good aspects, and with criticisms from those who believe that education is failing the country.
A though provoking article written by Professor Mary Metcalf appeared in The Sunday Independent of 6 January 2013, highlighting the things that are amiss in our education system but giving clear suggestions of what can be done to improve matters. Her recommendations are succinctly summarized by a paragraph towards the end of the article:
The five challenges are clear: improve success from primary school; reduce the dropout rate in Grades 10 to 12; increase the proportion of pupils who are passing at higher levels; focus on the provinces which have inherited the greatest portion of the apartheid devastation, and where the largest numbers of the poorest children live; and reduce the huge inequalities that are pervasive across the system.
This is a tall order! And it will require us to pull out all the stops to overcome these challenges.
While addressing these issues, don’t overlook the possible contribution of technology. How can technology help? In some way, it can address each of the five challenges:
Improve success from primary school: Many teachers are already using technology in their classrooms to develop and improve literacy and numeracy skills of learners from Grade 1 up till Grade 12.
Reduce the dropout rate in Grades 10 to 12: After introducing technology, many schools have reported that it serves as a way of regaining and retaining interest in learning among learners who might have given up on their education.
Increase the proportion of pupils who are passing at higher levels: Technology can help to fill the gap where skilled teachers are not available, or where big learner numbers make it impossible for teachers to provide individual guidance.
Focus on the provinces which have inherited the greatest portion of the apartheid devastation, and where the largest numbers of the poorest children live: An injection of technology in these provinces, alongside other interventions, will accelerate the rate of improvement in the qualityof education.
Reduce the huge inequalities that are pervasive across the system: Technology has proved to be a great equalizer.
Who is responsible to address these challenges? Professor Metcalf says that the state has a responsibility:
The Department of Basic Education has diagnosed these and other challenges, and has a clear and credible plan to address them in its Action Plan to 2014. The National Development Plan reinforces this. Achieving these goals requires strong educational institutions.
Both the Action Plan to 2014 (see Chapter 7: The Importance of e-Education) and the National Development Plan include the use of technology as important elements of a strategy to improve education. But will the State be able to pull this off on its own? The article concludes by appealing to all of us to make a play a part:
The first line of responsibility is with the department and its political and executive leadership. But it is also through citizens actively supporting teachers and schools, and working in partnership with provincial and national leaders, that implementation can succeed, and we can progressively make access to a quality public education for all a reality. To give this support is our individual and collective responsibility as parents and citizens, as is our parallel responsibility to hold officials accountable, to ensure fairness and that promises are kept.
The question now is: how can the private sector – particularly technology companies – work along with the national and provincial education departments to fix South Africa’s education?
Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 | education, technology | Comments Off
Recently I saw the following two quotations tweeted on Twitter:
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. (Oscar Wilde)
Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand. (Chinese proverb)
From the re-tweets and re-re-tweets of these snippets of wisdom it seems as if the sentiments expressed in them find resonance with many who are serious about education.
Telling happens when a teacher teaches or a lecturer presents a lecture. A good teacher will also show … using diagrams, real world models, doing experiments, even showing video clips to serve as memory aids. Sadly, that is where teaching in the classroom often ends.
Involvement of learners is important … but how do you accomplish this? More than teaching and showing is required. Involvement means that the learners must jump in boots and all into the learning material and participate in the learning process. The result is that learners will make worthwhile knowledge their own because they have been active partners in the learning process.
You may have guessed where this is going – yes, technology is a powerful tool for teachers to involve learners. The following are just a few of the many ways in which technology can take the classroom beyond a mere lecture room:
As the name implies, an interactive whiteboard (IWB) makes it possible for the teacher to involve the learners in the learning process in many different ways. The good news is that some data projectors now have interactive features, which obviates the need for an expensive IWB, yet allowing for interactive learning to take place.
Learners love their cell phones and innovative teachers are already using these devices to draw learners into the learning experience. Tablets play a similar role (for those who can afford them).
Where learners have access to the internet, they can create their own knowledge by doing research. No more spoon feeding … learners can be taught to find, evaluate and analyse information and then synthesize what they’ve gathered into knowledge which they make their own.
Mathematical skills are acquired through practise, practise and still more practise. Drill-and-practice programs are available on technology devices and these can be used to help learners to hone and own mathematical skills.
The screens of cell phones, tablets or computers encourage reading and the keyboards encourage writing. Active use of these devices develop reading and writing skills … much needed in our country where the education system has not succeeded in “teaching” and “showing” these skills.
Let’s not just marvel at the wisdom of Wilde and the Chinese … put it in practice by harnessing technology to make learners active and eager participants in the learning process.
What learners will learn, experience and understand through active involvement is much, much better than all our well-prepared and smoothly presented lessons.
Thursday, October 11th, 2012 | education | Comments Off
With apology to Sir J C Squire, I reworked his poem, There Was an Indian, as follows:
There Was a Teacher
There was a teacher, who had known no change,
Who taught content within her comfort reach
Using books. She heard a sudden strange
Beep-clicking noise: looked up; and gasped for speech.
For in her class, where she had ruled before,
Appeared on desks, by magic, small machines
With blinking lights, and knowledge in their stores
And nimble thumbs that follow prompts on tiny screens.
And she, in fear, this teacher all alone,
Her hands forgotten chalk and board,
Her lips gone pale, a heart gone cold as stone,
And stared, and saw, and did not understand,
A cell phone reigning now as lord,
Clasped firmly in each learner’s hand.
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 | education | Comments Off
Not everyone understands a flipped classroom in the same way. For the purpose of this discussion, I accept the following definition:
The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed.
According to this definition, a traditional classroom is one where a teacher first teaches by presenting a lesson or by giving a lecture (perhaps involving some class discussion); this is then followed by homework to practise the new things learned and to consolidate the knowledge.
In a flipped classroom, these activities are reversed: first the homework, which requires the learners to watch one or more videos of pre-recorded lessons or lectures. These lectures are either created by the teacher specifically for the class, or they could be obtained from on-line sources. They may contain on-line quizzes or other real-time activities. When the learners come to class, they already have knowledge of the topic and classroom time is used by the teacher to help students to work on projects or engage in activities that will help them to make sense of the content.
What are the advantages of the flipped classroom?
The advantage of flipping the order of lesson and homework is debatable. However, a clear advantages of this approach is that learners can work at their own pace. If a lecture is not understood at first, it can be watched again and again. Additionally, teachers can spend time in the class working more closely with individual learners, perhaps putting them in groups so that learners can benefit from peer engagement.
In a successfully flipped classroom a teacher’s contact time can undoubtedly be used in a more constructive way than in the old-style talk-and-chalk delivery mode.
Is the flipped classroom a new concept?
Studying material before coming to class is by no means a new idea. Many teachers prescribe a pre-reading of selected portions from a textbook before learners come to class. What is new in the flipped classroom is the way in which technology supports the notion. Rather than passive reading of a textbook, learning material can be animated and made available in a variety of presentation formats and on a variety of platforms.
Can the flipped classroom work in South African schools?
The flipped classroom should work in any place in the world. There are, however, two critical success factors that must be considered.
- The flipped classroom is dependent on the availability of technology.The child must have access to technology at home – technology that is connected to the internet. How many of our learners have this type of access? Some may argue that cell phones can be employed for this purpose – whether this is a practical solution remains to be seen. Until we can ensure that every child in the class has adequate access to a technology device and the internet, the flipped classroom is not feasible.
- The flipped classroom depends heavily on thoughtful preparation on the part of the teacher. The teacher must either create or source relevant lesson material and make this available to learners. This requires that the teacher: must understand the lesson material; has access to technology; has experience in the use of technology for teaching and learning; and is able to create a lesson plan that contains both pre-classroom and in-classroom activities. How many teachers in typical South African schools do you know who have these qualities?
It is encouraging to hear reports from schools in South Africa where teachers have successfully managed to flip their classrooms. But is this possible in all our classrooms?
Unless much more work is done to make technology available to learners, and to equip teachers with the necessary skills, it is unlikely that a flipped classroom will be successful.
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