How many letters do you lately find in your letterbox? And how many paper based letters do you post in the red post boxes? Compare that with the number of emails you receive and write daily. For most of us, emails are now the preferred way of communication, to such an extent that we hardly make use of snail mail.
At school we were all taught how to write letters: the personal “Dear Mary” type, as well as the more formal “Dear Mr Smith” business letters. We were taught about form, register, good letter writing techniques and even some letter writing etiquette.
Did you know that this is still what is being taught in South African schools? This in spite of the fact that learners may never have seen such a letter in their life! The writing of emails is not part of the curriculum of language subjects. It is true that the writing of emails is part of the CAT (Computer Application Technology) courses, but relatively few learners take this subject at school.
Of course, a few teachers have already taken the bold move to “extend” the curriculum unofficially by including email writing in their classes … but these ones are the exception.
This is just a small example to illustrate the long way we still have to go to prepare learners to function efficiently in this digital age.
Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | education, technology | Comments Off
It is a mistake to think that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can simply be procured, dropped at a school … and that the school will then be magically transformed into a state-of-the-art educational center.
Technology implementation in schools is a multi-disciplinary activity, requiring the integration of tasks performed by diverse professionals:
- artisans must create an environment in which technology can operate
- technology experts must install the equipment
- communication experts must create a networked and connected environment
- subject experts must ensure that relevant content is available
- trainers must train teachers in the usage of all aspects of the system.
To make sure that all project activities are delivered on time, in the correct sequence, within budget and meeting quality criteria, project management capacity is required.
A lack of such capacity has resulted in haphazard and failed projects in the past. Let’s learn from our mistakes by making sure that adequate project management procedures are in place when contemplating ICT implementation in schools.
Picture credit: http://www.ipmglobal.net/projectmanagementsoftware.htm
Thursday, February 5th, 2015 | education, technology | Comments Off
Many look at e-learning as an education solution. Some teachers achieve magnificent results when they capitalize on the power of technology. But why are these successes the exception, rather than the rule?
The problem with e-learning is that there is far too much emphasis on the “e” and far too little emphasis on “learning”. The focus in any classroom must be learning.
A good teacher who wants to make sure that learning happens will use any available tool to improve the classroom experience. Technology is one such a tool, but learning suffers when learning is overshadowed by the tool: when the latest device innovations are glorified; or the praises of the learning management system are sung; or the bells and whistles of the e-book are emphasized.
Often, more time is spent choosing between available tools than thinking about how the tools will be used. When technology is procured without thinking about the way in which it will support teaching and learning, and then dumped on a teacher who has not been given adequate opportunity to come to grips with it, it becomes a useless gadget.
There is nothing wrong with “e”, in fact, there is so much that is right about it – if we can only find a way of helping the education fraternity to harness it properly!
Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | education, technology | 1 Comment
The toolbox of a writer contains words and grammar rules. Imagine how difficult it will be to express yourself if you have a vocabulary of only a hundred words and do not know how to write in the past tense.
A good writer strives to know how to manipulate all the rule of grammar and makes a point of learning new words. New words are constantly appearing. Think about new words that have been accepted recently: selfie, podcast, cyberbully and emoticon. The Oxford Dictionary word-of-the-year for 2014 is vape (meaning: to suck an electronic cigarette). A writer who wants to remain relevant must know these words and understand how and when to use them appropriately.
How do you learn new words? Few people sit with a dictionary trying to memorize words. Rather, as we read and encounter a new word we find the meaning and then try to use it when appropriate. The same applies to becoming proficient in the use grammar rules: practice makes perfect.
Now compare this with a teacher’s toolkit.
A teacher needs content knowledge, which must be updated regularly to remain relevant as the world around us changes. But the tools of the trade are also changing. A chalk board, books and pens are no longer sufficient. We live in a world dominated by technology and learners expect that technology tools be used for teaching and learning; the cell phones in their pockets are constant reminders that technology is a part of their life. Sadly, the skill to harness technology is often is not in the toolbox of the teacher.
How can a teacher remedy this situation? Get a device; play around with it; become familiar and comfortable with it; talk to other teachers who have already used technologies in their classrooms; then dive in and use it in your classroom. Remember: practice makes perfect.
Technology in education has a “vocabulary”: devices and content sources. It also has “grammar rules”: the rules of engagement and the skills to use it in support of teaching and learning.
Previous postings on this blog may give you some ideas of how you can become familiar with technology and how to use in your teaching. Click here to find an index to some of these postings.
Friday, December 19th, 2014 | education | Comments Off
When technology is brought into a school and teachers are confronted by it, they are often stymied: What are they going to do with it? How are they to use it? Their lack of knowledge, understanding and wisdom may freeze them into inactivity.
To illustrate: let’s assume you encounter a bull in the field. You recognize the animal as a bull; perhaps you’ve seen one before, or seen pictures or videos of a bull. You have also gained some basic information about bulls: they are stronger than humans; they can run faster than you; they can’t climb trees; and they don’t like humans. All of these facts constitute knowledge about bulls.
When you meet the bull in the field the information you’ve gathered must assist you to understand the situation you find yourself in. The bull is going to kill you; you have to take action fast!
Wisdom comes into play when you make the right decision at the moment when you confront the bull. Are you going to try and outrun him? That will not be so smart because he is faster than you. So you will get into a tree as fast as possible. Without knowledge of bulls and their behaviour, as well as an understanding of your situation, you would be frozen in your tracks.
Think now about a teacher who is confronted by technology in a classroom. Prior knowledge is essential. How does it work? What are its affordances for education? What are the constraints? Knowing these things will lead to an understanding of how technology can improve teaching and learning. Now, when faced with technology the teacher will have the wisdom of putting it to use to improve educational outcomes.
Note the sequence of these three steps. First knowledge: without this you will never be able to take the next steps. Then understanding: knowing how to operate a computer (or any other digital device) will be of no use unless you understand how it can improve educational outcomes. Then wisdom: knowledge and understanding will help you to develop the ability to harness technology to make your classroom a better place. But true wisdom can only be gained through experience, so you have to take the bold step of putting the knowledge and understanding to work.
The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom for surviving bull encounters is quite easy. The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom using technology in the classroom is much more difficult. It requires time, effort and dedication and then more time, effort and dedication. But the results will be rewarding, for both the teacher and the learners.
(Picture credit: http://www.crossfitfuture.com/angry-bull/ )
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!
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!
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