Computer Usage

New technologies to see animal dissections obsolete in the classroom

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.

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

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

[This is a guest post by the National Council of SPCAs.]

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You can’t eat soup with chop sticks

Sunday, August 14th, 2011 | Computer Usage | 6 Comments

Does a computer room have a place in schools?  Let’s use an analogy to answer this question:

When Mary and John had their first baby, Lulu, they decided to raise her by the book.  Solid food was only introduced when she was six months old and for this purpose Mary bought a special small spoon covered with a soft plastic material.

As she grew older, Lulu had great fun in trying to use the spoon to feed herself – her first attempts were rather disastrous.  Her parents tolerated the mess since they realized it was part of her development.

Mary started training her child to use other pieces of cutlery when she was about three years old.  By the time Lulu was six, her parents could take her to any restaurant, confident that she would know how and when to use each piece of cutlery: fish knives and forks, steak knives, butter knives, spoon and fork for eating spaghetti, chop sticks, different equipment for different uses.  However, Lulu understood that spoons still had their uses, but she got to know when it was appropriate to use them.

Looking back, Mary and John can clearly see that they would never have been able to teach their child table etiquette, had they not used a spoon as a stepping stone.

Now apply this analogy to the use of technology in a school.  A whole assortment of tools is available to teachers: computers, data projectors, interactive whiteboards, slates and many other mobile devices, different software tools, web sites, blogs, twitter and other similar social networking tools, and so the list goes on.  The variety of technology tools reminds us of the array of cutlery with which a baby is confronted.

As technologies appear on the market and are introduced to teachers at conferences, they often become the flavour of the month.  Older tools may be spurned by some teachers when they return from these conferences, believing that the new tool that was introduced to them is the ultimate manifestation of technology in education.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with a teacher discovering a tool and then using it in favour of others, if the new tool proves to be more effective.

The question is: what is the best tool to introduce technology at a school where technology has never been used before?  Based on my experience with approximately one and a half thousand schools over the past decade, I would suggest that the best way to initiate the use of technology in a school is through the establishment of a computer laboratory.  Such a laboratory would typically consist of a server, a number of networked computers, a few peripherals such as a printer and scanner, one or two selected educational software packages, and, of course, internet access.

Some experts in the field of technology in education argue that computer rooms are out of fashion and that schools should not invest in them.  They point to the fact that many schools are now abandoning their computer laboratories in favour of moving technology into classrooms and therefore advocate that schools should leap-frog the establishment of a computer room and take technology straight into the classroom.

Yes, ultimately one would wish for all teachers to use technology in their classrooms, rather than having to trek to the computer room when they want to use technology for teaching and learning.  It is obvious that technology in the classroom gives teachers and learners constant access to it, as opposed to only one or two hours a week that a computer room may offer them. 

But view the computer room in the same way as Lulu’s parents viewed her plastic covered spoon: a useful tool for an unskilled person, and one that can’t cause hurt.  A computer room is a safe and comfortable environment for teachers.  Once it is established in a school, a trainer can use the facility to train groups of teachers until they are familiar with the technology.  As the confidence of individual teachers grow, they can then take their learners to the room, at first using packaged software as a stepping stone to developing techniques for using technology for teaching and learning.  In time, teachers will discover ways in which they can develop their own teaching resources and will then start moving away from packaged software.  Given more time, they will develop the need to have technology in their classrooms and with the experience they’ve gained, they will be able to identify appropriate hardware and software tools to meet their needs.

Schools that are now moving away from computer rooms have most likely used them for a decade or two and the teaching staff has reached the point of technology maturity that requires them to have technology as a constant companion in their classrooms.  The situation is different in schools where technology is only now being introduced.

Even when technology has moved into classrooms, most teachers still find a computer room a useful facility when it is necessary for learners to have individual access to technology.  Remember, when the baby grows up and learns how to use all the different pieces of cutlery, she understands that spoons will always have a place – she knows that you can’t eat soup with chop sticks.

Don’t let anyone convince you that a computer laboratory in a school is a lost opportunity.

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Should you aim for one-to-one computing?

Saturday, June 4th, 2011 | Computer Usage, education | Comments Off

One-to-one computing – one computer for every learner in the classroom – is the dream of many teachers.  Just imagine what we will be able to do if every learner has a computing device in their hands!

But is this feasible?  Consider the following points when you consider pursuing the goal of one-to-one computing in your school.

Before chasing ubiquitous computing in a school, ensure that existing ICT resources are used optimally. 

One-to-one computing (one computer per child) is an impossible dream for poor schools in Africa – it’s just not sustainable.

Schools must aim for one-to-one computing for teachers before they pursue one-to-one computing for learners.

One-to-one computing can only be as effective as the teachers who are taking the lead in classrooms.

When a school moves towards one-to-one computing, security of equipment becomes a serious issue.

These thoughs were tweeted by @e4africa with the tag #ictschooltip.

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What is wrong with eating, drinking and smoking in the computer room?

Sunday, March 6th, 2011 | Computer Usage | 1 Comment

A sign telling you that eating, drinking or smoking are not allowed is found in most computer rooms.


This rule is there for good reasons.

Drinking is discouraged because liquid spills can damage the equipment.  Liquid may cause your keyboard to cease functioning.  If you’re using a laptop, the liquid may trickle to the inside and damage your entire machine.

When you’re eating, crumbs will fall on the keyboard and it’s nearly impossible to get them out.  These crumbs may not cause problems immediately, but they all add up.  Sticky fingers cause dirt to accumulate wherever you touch the computer.

Eating or drinking may also cause discomfort to others in the room.  Imagine how irritating crunching of potato crisps can be when you’re trying to concentrate, or what the effect of the smell of spicy, garlicky food will have on you.

As far as smoking is concerned … well, you know how much damage it does to your lungs (and to the lungs of those around you).  The smoke and ash particles are likewise damaging to computer equipment. 

These rules are not for learners only.  They also apply to teachers, even when they are in the computer room after hours, preparing lessons or catching up on admin work.

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What can I do when my classroom technology does not work?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 | Computer Usage | 3 Comments

The more pieces of technology you have in your classroom, the more can go wrong.  You may have a computer, data projector, printer, scanner, digital camera and equipment to transform your classroom into an interactive one.  Often these items have different brand names and are obtained from different suppliers – this complicates the matter when something goes wrong.

If you are not a technical expert, you may feel at a loss if your technology does not work.  How do you feel when this happens to you?  Stuck?  Frustrated?  Inclined to throw the equipment out the window?

Three simple suggestions may help you to stay sane:

When your device does not respond, do a quick check by switching off all the different components; make sure that all connections are intact and that the equipment is plugged in at the wall sockets and switched on; leave the equipment switched off for a few moments and then switch them all on again.  You’ll be surprised how often this simple procedure does the trick!

If the problem persists, call an expert.  Another teacher in your school – one with more experience than you – may be able solve the problem quickly.  When such help is not available in your school, call for technical assistance from outside – possibly from your technology supplier.  When the expert solves the problem, observe closely and try to learn as much as you can to build your own expertise.  (Hint: keep a list of the suppliers of your equipment, with their telephone numbers, in your classroom.  Problems can often be resolved over the phone.)

While waiting for the expert, test each piece of equipment in turn.  The most likely cause of the problem is the computer or laptop.  Check whether it is operating properly on its own – loading files, displaying them on the screen, and responding to mouse or keyboard prompts.  If you are satisfied that the computer works, connect the other devices one by one and test the system after each connection.  Through a process of elimination you may be able to pinpoint the area of your problem.

When help is not forthcoming immediately, don’t waste time – go to your Plan  B … and continue teaching.

Perform a quick test of the technology you plan to use before the start of the school day – this will avoid embarrassing and time-wasting situations later.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What happens when technology lets me down in the classroom?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 | Computer Usage | 6 Comments

When it comes to technology Murphy’s Law applies: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  Imagine you have spent time preparing a lesson and you planned to use technology to present the material in an interesting way, but when you switch the equipment on, you discover that it does not work.  You’re stymied!

You always need a Plan B when you use technology.  This is true of any form of technology: computers, data projectors, interactive whiteboards, mobile devices and yes, even old-fashioned overhead projectors.  Unless you have another trick up your sleeve, you will not be able to deliver your lesson when technology fails.

You must plan for contingencies, so that the time it takes to try fixing technology does not eat into your teaching time.  Your best Plan B is to have an alternative activity available.  Technology will not often let you down – once you know how to use it properly – but it can do so at the most inconvenient time.  So be prepared!

What can go wrong?

The electricity supply is interrupted.  Much of the technology you’ll use in the classroom is dependent on electricity.  Continued use of a laptop or other mobile devices (such as cell phones and digital cameras) will not be affected by an electricity failure, but PCs and display devices such as data projectors and interactive whiteboards will be affected.  You could install an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) system, but this is expensive.  It can be argued that this investment is not warranted, as the use of interactive devices is not a mission critical activity.

The laptop breaks down.  When this happens, and you have your lesson backed up on a secondary storage device (like a data stick) you may borrow an available laptop from someone else in the school and continue with your lesson.

The technology malfunctions.  Anything can go wrong with any of the technologies you’re using in the classroom.  Unless you are a technical wizard, there is nothing you can do about this, except to call a technician.

The possibility of technology failures must not deter you from using it – this would be like saying you’re not buying a TV set for you home because the power may go down or the TV set may break down.  Just make sure you have a Plan B ready for an emergency situation.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Why is a computer room in your school not enough?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 | Computer Usage | 1 Comment

In Africa a school with a computer room, holding twenty or thirty computers, is indeed fortunate.  Only a small percentage of schools have such facilities.

If you are teaching in a school with a computer room and you have the opportunity to take your learners there, you are indeed privileged.  You are the envy of most of the teachers on the continent.

Computer rooms have many uses, such as allowing learners to gain computer skills, doing drill and practice exercises, doing research and project work, and performing assessment tasks.  You may even be able to use the facility to teach and reinforce what you’ve done in the classroom.

In spite of the good things that can happen in a computer room, you must still try to move technology into your classroom as soon as you can.  Why?  Think about a few of the limitations of the computer room.

Let’s take the example of a school with one thousand learners with a computer room of twenty-five computers.  That means one computer is shared by forty learners.  The learners will have to visit the room on a rotational basis in groups of twenty-five at a time.  When you keep in mind the number of school hours per week, as well as the amount of time required for groups of learners to move between classes, you’ll see that learners in this school will only be able to work on the computers for about half an hour a week.  Clearly not enough for significant curriculum work!

The situation is worse where class groups are of varying sizes.  What does a teacher do with a class group of forty learners?  Fifteen will not have a machine on which to work – they will either have to sit out, or share a computer with another learner.

Careful planning is necessary to ensure that the work you’ll be doing in the computer room is integrated with work you’ve just done in the classroom, or are about to do, otherwise the time spent with technology is wasted.

The solution to the problem is simple: have technology in your classroom at all times.  You don’t need one to one computing.  You can do a lot with a single laptop and a data projector.  Innovative teachers are performing miracles with cell phones.

If you have a computer room, use it as a launch pad: it can propel you and your learners into the universe of technology.  But don’t just orbit the computer room – bring the technology into your classroom.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What is the value of a computer room in a school?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 | Computer Usage | 10 Comments

Technology is of the greatest value to teachers when it is available in the classroom. 

Why do schools then have computer rooms (also called computer laboratories or computer suites)?  Should we not dismantle them and distribute the technology to classrooms?

Before you demolish your computer room, just pause for a moment.  Computer rooms hold huge value, if used properly.  Think about the following great things you can do there:

The only way in which learners can attain digital literacy is by having hands-on experience with computer equipment.  Not many children on the African continent have access to computer equipment at home and limited technology in the classroom may not give learners an opportunity to use it to the extent that they can build computer skills.  A computer room allows learners to become comfortable in the use of computer equipment.

Drill-and-practice exercises can be given to learners, honing numeracy and mathematical abilities.  Of course, this requires skillfulness on the part of the teacher who must ensure that computer room activities are integrated with what is happening in the home classroom.

On-line assessment is a great time saver for teachers.  No more marking of scripts and calculation and collation of marks!  It is all done for you by special software packages designed for this purpose.

Individual research is best carried out by learners when each one has access to the internet.  A computer room lends itself to this type of research.  Of course, cell phones can be used for this purpose too, but then teachers have no way of telling where on the web learners are roaming.  In a computer room, a teacher can use monitoring software to supervise and guide the research process.

Individual project work is possible if learners have access to computers – this too can take place in the computer room.

Learners can visit the computer room after hours to engage in e-learning courses or do revision of notes which are available in digital format – each learner at his or her own pace.

Teachers are encouraged to bring technology into their classrooms.  Computer rooms have a different purpose.  Both are needed to develop twenty-first century skills.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Identity crisis …

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 | Learners | 2 Comments

Is it possible that our children – sometimes called digital natives – suffer from an identity crisis? was used to create this strip

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Can I use a laptop for entertainment?

Sunday, April 26th, 2009 | Computer Usage, laptops | 1 Comment

A laptop is a great entertainment device – over and above employing it for work and personal enrichment, you will be able to use it for recreation.  For example, you will be able to use your laptop to:

  • listen to music
  • watch movies
  • play games
  • keep up to date with world affairs
  • read about any topic you enjoy
  • engage in private conversation with family and friends
  • store all your photographs.

Some people use their laptops for entertainment purposes only.  You will probably use it mostly for work, but you do not have to feel guilty if you use it for recreation as well.

A great variety of movies, music and games are available commercially.  Of course, these come at a price and some games may require additional hardware.  But you don’t always have to pay for your entertainment – much material is available on the internet at no cost.  You will be surprized to discover how much freeware you could download. 

Just don’t fall into the trap of using pirated products – it is unethical.  And what a bad example you will be setting for your learners!  When someone offers you a copy, first make sure that it is a legal copy and that you are not breaking copyright laws when you use it.  Also keep in mind that viruses are often transmitted through unauthorized copies – people who copy electronic material illegally are usually not very scrupulous when it comes to virus protection.

Enjoy your laptop.  Use all the facilities it offers you.  If you’ve never used a laptop before, entertainment activities may be a painless way for you to become familiar with your machine.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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