The real problem of e-learning

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?

Is "e" perhaps the problem?

Is “e” perhaps the problem?

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!

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When learning to use technology, can I expect some form of accreditation … and possibly better job prospects?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 | technology | Comments Off

Many teachers are keen to embark on study programs that lead to accreditation or recognized qualifications.  This is natural since better job opportunities are often linked to qualifications. 

The first technology you’ll learn is the computer.  Commercial firms, technology suppliers and education departments offer certificates when you reach a specified level of competency.  In some cases these certificates are accepted by tertiary education institutions and you may receive credits for them.  The value of being able to use a computer is far greater than the certificate you’ll receive: it will allow you to tap into huge knowledge stores and participate in on-line courses, leading perhaps to formal accreditation. 

Vendors of other technologies, such as interactive whiteboards, may likewise give you a certificate of competency.  These are usually only of value if you want to prove that you are able to use the particular device. 

While a formal qualification may be important to you while building a career, your main motive in learning to use technology must be to become a more effective teacher.  An analogy will help us to put qualifications in the proper perspective.

What is your objective when you buy a cell phone?  Is it to learn to use it so that you can obtain a qualification?  This can hardly be the case!  Do you receive a certificate when you give evidence that you can use your cell phone?  Of course not!  So why do you learn to use it?  The answer is obvious: to facilitate communication. 

The same line of reasoning should be followed when you learn to use classroom technology – the objective should not be the qualification, but the way in which it will improve your efficiency as a teacher. 

The demand for teachers proficient in the use of technology will increase in the future.  For the moment don’t focus too much on the destination.  View the process of learning as an exciting journey – you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover where it may lead you.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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I am not so young anymore – won’t it be difficult for me to become skilled in the use of classroom technology?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 | technology, training | Comments Off

If you are a senior teacher you may be concerned that your ability to acquire new skills – particularly technology skills – is not what it used to be.  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – I am too old to learn modern technology,” you may say.  Don’t allow clichés to control your destiny!

Do you really believe that you are too old to learn – or is it just an excuse? 

How did you feel a few years ago when cell phones were introduced? 

Some said that they would never use them … but eventually they capitulated and agreed to carry a mobile phone.  “But only to receive calls,” they said.  Soon they were making calls too, and it did not take long before they started sending text messages – now they can’t imagine how they managed before without an SMS.  Over time these older folks discovered other functions of the phone – taking pictures of their grandchildren, browsing the internet and even becoming active on social networks.

Does this sound familiar to you?  If you conquered a cell phone, you can conquer classroom technology.  The technology available to you for teaching is not much different from a cell phone – you will be surprised how many functions are the same.  In fact, you will discover that cell phones are powerful teaching and learning tools!  It all depends on how willing and eager you are to learn.

Many teachers in their fifties, sixties and seventies have already mastered the use of different classroom technologies and now proclaim that they can’t imagine life without them.  If you are a life long learner, this is what you will do – continue to learn new things as they come your way.  Your age is not the limiting factor when it comes to becoming skilled in new technologies, but rather the extent of your willingness to move outside of your comfort zone.

While you are still able to teach, you are not yet over the hill.  The education system needs your experience, passion and commitment – and above all, your example.  When you master the use of technology, you are setting an example to the new generation of teachers.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Some authorities claim no evidence exists that technology has a positive impact on teaching and learning – is this true?

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 | technology | 6 Comments

When the impact of technology on education is discussed, varied opinions are expressed.  Some of them are: 

  • absolutely no evidence that technology has a positive impact
  • no conclusive evidence that technology makes a difference
  • it can’t hurt
  • the best thing since sliced bread
  • lots of anecdotal evidence that technology improves learning
  • proven beyond doubt that technology makes a difference in the classroom.

Published research results are not conclusive and vary according to the sample taken, the area where the research was done, as well as by whom the research was done.  In general, when research is based on a single school, or a small sample of schools in a particular region, or schools using a particular product, the results are positive.  This can be attributed to the fact that when research is commissioned as part of a pilot study, more support is given to teachers – therefore the measurable results are positive. 

Larger research studies often show that technology has little or no impact on teaching and learning.  A random selection of schools is used for these studies – schools where teachers receive no support are included and often account for the bulk of the research data. 

A reasonable conclusion is that when teachers are supported and trained to use technology in a focused way, positive outcomes can be expected.  However, technology has little or no impact on learning when it is just implemented – dumped – and the teachers then left alone, with no support. 

You may read success stories or meet other teachers who claim that technology has changed their classrooms for the better; others may be less enthusiastic about the success of technology. 

Do you want technology to have a positive impact in your classroom?  It can, even if so far it has not improved learner outcomes in your region or in your school. 

The only way in which you will know the value of technology is if you put it to the test yourself.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Can technology make a teacher more productive?

Sunday, December 26th, 2010 | technology | 2 Comments

What does it mean to be productive?  Some shy away from the word because it sounds too much like hard work.  Teachers complain: “How can it be expected of us to produce more?  The education department is overworking us as it is – and now you want us to do even more!”

Does greater productivity necessarily mean working harder?  If you’re not a hard worker then yes, it means you have to work harder.  But if you are already a hard worker it does not mean that you must become an even harder worker.  Think for a moment about the definition of productivity:

Productivity is the amount of output per unit of input, where input may be time, equipment or money – you’ll therefore be more productive if you manage to increase your output, while keeping your input the same.

This tells us that, with the same amount of input – the same time and effort – you can become a more productive teacher.  How?  By increasing the output.  Technology can help you to increase your output with the same amount of input in two ways:

Using tools such as a word processor and a spreadsheet – often called productivity tools – technology will make your admin work easier, quicker and more accurate.  You will be able to spend less time on admin, leaving you more time for other productive work.

In a classroom the output is the amount of learning taking place.  How much do the learners in your class learn?  You know that some teaching sessions may pass with hardly any learning happening while a session of the same duration could be highly productive with a lot of learning takes place.  Technology holds the attention of learners and encourages their involvement – since this increases the potential for learning, your lessons become more productive. 

Productivity means accomplishing more with fewer resources.  Technology may come at a price, but when you experience the ways in which it will help you to increase your output you’ll soon conclude that it is indeed a bargain.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How much value does a document camera have in the classroom?

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

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.

A document camera is just what you need when you’re looking for a tool to zoom in on small objects so they can be displayed to the class.  This device is also called a visualizer, visual presenter, or digital visualizer.  A document camera is a digital camera which, connected to your computer, allows you to display images through the data projector.

Bear the following facts about the functionality of a document camera in mind when you’re weighing up the benefits of this electronic tool with the price you’ll have to pay for it:

Whereas a scanner limits you to displaying two dimensional images, a document camera 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.

The microscope function of a document camera allows you to display microscopic objects.

Have you ever done a science experiment while forty learners are crowding around you to see what’s happening?  Doing your experiment on the display surface of the document camera 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.

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.

When you’re using a textbook in your lesson, the page you are working with can be displayed to the class.  If the image is displayed on an interactive whiteboard, you’ll be able to make annotations on the board for the benefit of the learners. 

A document camera allows your learners to explore and experience new worlds – it has great potential in transforming your classroom into an interactive one.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can technology help me with lesson presentation?

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 | technology | 2 Comments

If you think technology is a great help to you while you prepare your lessons, it will be an even greater help to you when you present your lessons.  A variety of technology devices are designed specifically to support lesson presentation. 

You need a computer in the classroom to begin with.  But it is impossible for a large group of learners to see what is happening on the small screen of a computer or a laptop.  When you link a data projector to your computer you’ll be able to project a much larger image on a screen or a wall.  An interactive whiteboard takes you one step further – learners can interact with it as if it is an interactive touch screen.  Other electronic devices extend the use of technology even further.  You can cash in on the love of children for technology to make your lessons more interesting.

A few examples of how you can enhance your teaching with technology follow:

Learners become bored and distracted when you spend time to write notes on the board.  Technology makes it possible for you to prepare notes ahead of time and then to display them at an appropriate point during the lesson.  Using less time for writing leaves you more time for teaching.

Children love pictures and each one tells a story – they illustrate important points, or difficult concepts, by means of interesting images.  You can introduce sessions with a captivating picture, diagram or even a video clip, thereby setting the scene for the session and helping the class to focus on the purpose of the lesson; these images can likewise be used as part of your lesson presentation to illustrate concepts.

Interactive tools encourage learners to be involved in the lesson – that helps to keep their attention.

Technology can keep one group of learners busy while you are attending to another group.

After using technology in your class for a while, you will discover – as many other teachers have done – that there are many ways in which you can use it in your classroom and that you never want to be without it again!

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can reading blogs help teachers?

Friday, December 3rd, 2010 | Blogging, technology | 4 Comments

Blogs have the potential of helping a teacher in two ways: you can read them and you can create them.

Let’s look at one way in which reading blogs can be of benefit to you.

Suppose you are struggling to teach a particular topic – you know the theory, but you find it difficult to get the information across to your learners.  When you search the web you will find loads of information about the topic, but some of it may be similar to information you find in a text book.  Your problem is how to teach the topic.  This is where blogs can fill the gap.

Bear in mind that most blogs are published by people like you – ordinary people who want to share their experience with others.  Some of these bloggers are teachers – your colleagues – and write from a perspective of personal experience.  They may work and live on the other side of the globe, but they grapple with problems similar to yours.  When they find a solution to a teaching problem, they’re keen to share their knowledge, and so they blog about it.  Through their blogs they’re talking to you – teacher to teacher.

An added advantage of reading teacher blogs is the comments made by other teachers.  They may report on how useful they find the advice or comment on alternative ways in which they have approached the matter.  By reading these comments you’re benefiting from a multitude of practitioners and the beauty of it all is that you are not learning the theory but the practical application of the material.

The value you derive from these blogs will peak once you become involved by adding your comments.  Some of these comments are suggestions but they may be requests for advice.  How useful when other readers respond to your comments – soon you will have a global network of supporting colleagues!

Blogs are likewise useful when you want to improve your expertise in the use of technology in the classroom.  Your colleagues have trod the way before you and their experience is only a mouse click away.

Your first challenge is to find blogs relevant to your needs.  Once you’ve found them, bookmark them and read them regularly.  Comment freely.  Make them a significant part of your PLN (personal learning network).

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What options do I have for learning to use technology?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

This posting is a summary - with links – of recent articles giving advice to teachers about the various training options open to them.

In most cases a destination can be reached in more than one way – but some routes are easier than others.  Travellers know about the sign-posted roads with minimal chances of getting lost; the attractive short-cuts often leading to dead-ends; the scenic routes for a pleasurable journey; and the rambling see-where-it-will-take-you roads.  

We are all different and the choices we make depend on our personalities, how quickly we want to get to the end of our journey, and how much money and energy we are prepared to spend on the trip. 

It is exactly the same with learning to use technology.  Different routes are available to you. 

If you prefer a structured training approach, you may consider the following options:

A wide variety of formal courses are offered commercially.  Some of them are aimed at beginners and others offer advanced instruction.

Computer based training (CBT) courses are available on the internet, or through programs that can be loaded on your computer.

Your education department or school may arrange formal training programs to equip you with the required skills.

If these training opportunities are not available or you don’t have the resources to enrol in these programs – or you feel that you learn better in a less structured setting – other possibilities are open to you:

Read the manual and try to master your technology devices on your own.

Ask a colleague or a friend for assistance to get going, or when you are stuck.

Tap into the rich pool of technology knowledge of the learners in your class.

The friendly supplier of your technology devices or software programs will always be willing to spend time with you to show you the basics.

The internet is a rich source of tips and techniques.

Establish your own personal learning network (PLN) where you will find useful information to help you along the way. 

Use whatever suits you – most teachers end up following a blended approach, using more than one of these training options. 

Don’t forget: the best way to learn and retain what you’re learning is by doing.  Apply what you learn immediately – and then build on it by learning more.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can the internet help me to build technology skills?

Monday, November 29th, 2010 | internet | 2 Comments

The information held on hundreds of thousands of computers around the world – all linked together to form the internet – is in effect without limit.  Anything you want to learn can be found on the internet.  This includes knowledge about the use of technology in the classroom.

Of course, all of this information is accessible to you only if you are connected to the internet.  If you want to use the internet to improve your technology skills it is best if you have it available at home so that you can use it when it is convenient for you.

Once you have internet access, the next step is to learn how to google.  Google is the name of one of a number of search engines  – programs used to search for information on the internet  – but it has become so popular that its name is now used as a verb.  Googling is easy.  It’s like looking up information in a library – just easier.

When you want to learn how to use a particular technology device, you simply type the name of the device into Google and you will receive a string of references – perhaps thousands of them.  You can make your exploration more meaningful if you are more specific when you specify your search.  Let’s illustrate this by means of an example:

A grade three teacher has an interactive whiteboard (IWB) in her classroom and wants to learn how to use it to improve literacy among her learners.  If she types in ‘IWB’ she will get several million references.  But if she makes her search more specific by typing in ‘IWB how literacy grade 3’ she will receive a shorter list, but the articles will be more focused on her immediate need – some will give examples, lesson plans or worked examples; others may contain useful tips and techniques from other teachers who already did what this teacher now wants to do.

While browsing around the internet in search of information that can help you to master technology in the classroom, you will come across sites that you like.  You can bookmark these sites by storing them under ‘Favourites’ on your internet browser or by using programs available at no cost through the internet, such as Diigo.

As a skilled internet user, you’ll be able to use this technology to become expert users of other technologies.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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