Are South African schools ready for flipped classrooms?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 | education | Comments Off

Before we can consider whether schools in South Africa are ready to have flipped classrooms, we must first be clear about what they are.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

Better not to flip than to struggle!

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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The role of technology in the classroom

Monday, June 11th, 2012 | education | 3 Comments

A thousand years ago a person could prosper without being literate; this is no longer possible today.  Thirty years ago a person could prosper without being digitally literate; this is likewise no longer possible today.  The workplace demands both literacy and digital skills and someone who enrols for a university course without them is at a disadvantage.  These skills must be developed before a child leaves school.

It follows that the debate is no longer “should we use technology in school” but rather “how can we accelerate the introduction of technologies into our classrooms”.  In other parts of the world technology has been a part of classrooms for decades but in South Africa we are lagging behind.  While educators in other countries are already experiencing the power of technology as teaching and learning tools, we are grappling with the basics.

Technology can be used in a classroom in different ways.

The first one is to teach learners about technology.  Just as good handwriting, spelling and grammar skills are basic building blocks for learning, so a sound understanding of technology is required.  It is important to know how to use a word processor, a spreadsheet, presentation software and how to communicate effectively through email.  These are basic skills and we may assume that learners will pick them up by themselves, but we only have to look at the way they write SMS messages to understand that much more is required than merely knowing where to press the buttons.

Teaching with technology is the second level for which to aim.  Technology can be a powerful teaching aid.  Think about a teacher who uses a laptop and a data projector in the classroom to spice up lessons by showing interesting pictures or video clips.  This can spark off interesting class discussions, focussing the attention of learners on the learning material.  An interactive whiteboard can take this one step further, encouraging further interactivity.  If a teacher has a trolley with netbooks available, she can use this for drill and practise exercises to reinforce numeracy skills.  Innovative educators will find many ways in which technology can be used as a teaching tool.

Teaching through technology is the third level to which teaches must aspire in the classroom: technology devices can assume the role of tutors to assist teachers with teaching and learners with learning.  It becomes a tool for learners to find information, evaluate it, analyse it, and synthesize it to build knowledge.  Collaboration skills can be developed as well as other critical thinking skills required for twenty-first century living.

We have a long way to go to reach this third stage – most schools are still battling to bring technology into classrooms to get stage one off the ground!

The state alone can’t make technology in education happen, even though we are looking at the national and provincial education departments to take the lead.  NGOs and corporate organizations can play a major role in making technology in the classroom a reality.

The education system faces many challenges – making technology a part of the classroom experience is only one of them.  It is, however, a critical one if we do not want the digital divide to widen even further.

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What can motivate teachers to use ICT?

Monday, May 14th, 2012 | education | Comments Off

Computers can’t think – teachers must think how these tools can be used to stimulate the thinking of their learners.  But how can we motivate teachers to use technology at school?  The following suggestions may help:

ICT makes it easier for teachers to build a personal learning network (PLN) with fellow teachers, subject experts and gurus.

The payback for the investment a teacher makes in time to learn ICT must be measured in terms of improved teaching.

Explore the way teachers in other schools use technology – you will get ample tips for your own classroom.

It may also help to remind teachers who find it hard to change to the use of ICT of the technological changes with which their learners must contend.  It is their duty to prepare children in their care for life in the twenty-first century.

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When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

Monday, April 2nd, 2012 | education, ICT in Africa | 1 Comment

What happens when an irresistible – or unstoppable – force meets an immovable object?  This has been the topic of many philosophical discussions.

Purists argue that this is a paradox: in a universe that allows for an irresistible force, an immovable object cannot exist, and likewise, in a universe where an immovable object is possible, an irresistible force cannot exist.

If, however, we ignore the laws of physics, this question becomes a useful metaphor.  Is it not an apt description of an encounter between a mother and a determined toddler or of what happens when a besotted man pursues an uninterested woman?  And does it not help to paint a picture of what happens when technological innovation tries to enter the ultra-conservative sphere of education?

The advance of technology is relentless.  It has penetrated most areas of human activity.  Medicine, engineering and commerce did not prove to be immovable but allowed technology to transform them for the better.

Education in South Africa is, to date, relatively unmoved by technology.  With the exception of a few pockets of technology adoption, little is done to allow technology into schools to enhance teaching and learning.
How long will it take for the waves to wear the rocks down?

The example of the unstoppable force of wave after wave bashing against immovable rocks has been used to explain what can happen in the hypothetical situation of an irresistible force meeting an object that’s immovable: eventual erosion of the object.  But this can take centuries!  We can’t wait for technology to wear down the education system over time – an immediate solution is required.

If technology continues on its unstoppable course (which is inevitable), and education continues to be unmoved by technology (which will be a tragedy), a disaster is inevitable … one that will leave South Africa with a digitally illiterate cohort of learners.

What can you and I do to avert this catastrophe?

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What is necessary for teachers to succeed in the use of ICT?

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 | education | Comments Off

It is possible for teachers to succeed in using technology in their classrooms.  The following snippets of advice may be encouraging to them:

The wise teacher who gets stuck with technology never hesitates to ask a colleague for assistance or for advice.

While some teachers are comfortable exploring and creating ICT content on their own, others need it in neatly packaged format.

Your ICT equipment manual – though of limited value in learning how to use the tool – is a quick reference when needed.

What makes it easier for some teachers to come to grips with ICT? 4 things: prior exposure, effort, aptitude and attitude.

Once teachers have become computer literate they must be given the opportunity to keep up to date with the latest ICT releases.

It is useful if a teacher has basic computer skills before attempting to learn how to use an interactive whiteboard.

A big difference exists between a teacher receiving training to use ICT in the classroom and a teacher being skilled to do so.

Teachers don’t have to understand the underlying technology of ICTs – all they need to know is how to use them for teaching.

Teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of learners recognize that technology is already a part of learners’ lives.

When ICT is introduced into a school, a teacher can succeed, but the teaching style of teachers has to change … and that’s not as easy as you may think!  But if there is a will, there is a way!

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How can a teacher maximize the value of technology in the classroom?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 | education | Comments Off

If classroom productivity is measured in terms of the amount of learning taking place, ICT will prove to be a productivity powerhouse.  But this does not happen automatically.  The value of technology in the classroom depends on the way the teacher uses it.

Here are a few points for teachers to ponder:

Use your ICT devices to impact positively on learning; otherwise they’re a waste.

The mere presence of technology in your classroom won’t bring results –you need to apply it as a teaching tool.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating – you will only know the value of technology in the classroom when you try it.

Different degrees of white-elephantness occur in classrooms relative to ICT, ranging from under-utilization to total non-use.

Don’t allow technology to hinder teaching and learning – it remains a tool, albeit a powerful one in the hands of enthusiastic teachers.

Technology is most successful in the classroom when the focus is not on the technology but rather on teaching and learning.

Also bear in mind that technology in the classroom will only empower a teacher if the teacher powers it “on”.

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Why should teachers and principals bother about ICT?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 | ICT in Africa, technology | Comments Off

So, what is this thing called ICT that principals and teachers are encouraged to use?

In the field of technology many abbreviations and acronyms are used and they can be confusing particularly if you don’t know their origin.

ICT is the abbreviation of Information and Communication Technology.

In the past, information was available almost exclusively in printed form.  Teachers used books to teach and learners used books to learn.  Modern technology makes it possible for information to be stored and accessed in other ways.

All these tools are available to teachers

Information technologies refer to electronic tools on which information can be made available.  A computer or laptop used to be the most common form of information technology but tablets and other mobile devices are now used widely.

Communication technologies refer to electronic tools used for communication.  The telephone and cell phone are examples of such technologies.

A few decades ago different information and communication technologies were represented by separate tools.  For example, a computer and a telephone were distinctly different tools and they were used separately.  Today, many information and communication tools have converged on single devices: you can make Skype calls from your computer; you can also use your cell phone to perform operations that you would normally associate with a computer, such as sending an e-mail. It should therefore be clear why the term ICT is used to include all information and communication technologies that are available for communicating information in the modern world.

ICT includes any tool that can receive, retrieve, store, manipulate and transmit information electronically.  It enables you to use tools such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, Whatsapp, the internet and email to share and communicate information around the globe.

The potential of ICT in education is great – it is up to you, the educator (teacher or principal), to explore the many ways in which it can help you in your school.

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Could teachers soon be replaced by technology?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 | education, technology | 2 Comments

The proponents of technology say, “YES.”  The education fraternity says, “NEVER.”

This question is discussed in an interesting blog posting on the blog Education Land, maintained by a teacher of English in Saudi Arabia. A few interesting comments, giving some food for thought, are found in this posting.  For example, the following observation is made:

Computers and technology already serve as teaching aides. Whether it’s teaching children their ABC’s or helping a college freshman memorize the periodic table, technology for educational purposes is already available.

Is this the future of education?

It is already possible for technology to take over some of the functions of teachers.

As technology tools become cheaper and more readily available, we can anticipate that it will take over more functions of teachers.

Will technology ever replace teachers?  Perhaps not completely, but it can go a long way towards filling the void where there is a shortage of teaching skills.

Picture credit

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Is ICT useful to teach all subjects?

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 | education | 1 Comment

A learner using a computer to hone her mathematics skills by doing repetative exercises

Can ICT can be used as a teaching tool – and more importantly, as a learning tool – in all subjects?  Yes, it can!  It simply calls for a teacher who understands technology tools to think up ways in which ICT can enrich the classroom.

Here are a few of the ways in which technology can be used in your classroom:

Start a history lesson by using a data projector to display a picture of a historical person or a video clip of a historical event to stimulate discussion in the classroom.

Computers are useful in teaching mathematics – drill and practice exercises help develop skills through repetition.

When teaching geography, nothing beats having Google Earth on tap in the classroom.

Science experiments can be simulated repeatedly in a normal classroom environment through the application of ICT.

Blogging and the use of email are excellent ways to develop writing and communication skills of learners in any language.

In what subjects have you found technology to be useful?

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A call to action: Invest in technology in education

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 | education | 4 Comments

A page on the website of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) contains three statements pointing to the importance of the use of technology in education.

The first one is embedded in the logo at the top of the page:





Viewing every child as a national asset implies that one should invest in the education of every child.  An investment in a child’s education cannot be complete if it does not include digital literacy.

The second technology hint is found in this statement:

The aim of the DBE is to develop, maintain and support a South African school education system for the 21st century.

An education system for the 21st century without a rich presence of technology is like a soccer match without a vuvuzela … you can’t have one without the other.

A third suggestion of the importance of technology in education is the Mission statement:

Our mission is to provide leadership with respect to provinces, districts and schools in the establishment of a South African education system for the 21st century.

Once again, mention of the 21st century, with the implied significance of technology, and a promise that the national department will support the provincial education departments to move in the right direction.

He hear the right noises from the national education authorities … let us now hope for some action.  But we can’t just hope and wait – what contribution can you and I make to support these noble goals?

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