September 4, 2017

Who has never thought, if only I could do this, it will help the learners understand the work so much better? Teachers are often frustrated by the logistical, financial or time constraints.

  • As maths teachers, we have been talking for years about doing a short test at the end of each chapter. We even tried it one year, only to be swamped by paper and marking. 
  • In a recent conversation with an English teacher, she was telling me how much her learner’s writing will improve if only she can find a way to get them to write something every week. But there is just no time.
  • Every chemistry teacher knows that it will be better if each learner can do the experiments themselves. But unless you have a well-stocked lab, that is just a pipe-dream

This is where technology comes in. It is not a silver bullet that can solve all problems in education immediately. But once you have identified a gap in your teaching or something that limits the kids learning, you will often find that technology can provide a solution.

You might have heard of the TPACK model. TPACK is an extension of Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical knowledge. A 21st-century teacher needs a sound knowledge of both the SUBJECT CONTENT, PEDAGOGY, and TECHNOLGY to plan a successful lesson.

Knowledge of the subject content enables a teacher to identify what learners need to know, pedagogical knowledge helps you to determine what is necessary for students to grasp this content. But you also need an understanding of available technology and how you can use it to ensure that learning takes place.

It is imperative that a pedagogical need always drives the use of technology in your class. When I started with eLearning, I was told, “If you do something on a tablet that can be done just as well with pen and paper, you are wasting your money.” It is often tempting to make use of a cool new gadget, just because you can, and it is not wrong, per se. But unless driven by a pedagogical need, it will not have any noticeable effect on your teaching, and it is possible that it can even hinder learning.

But it is just as important that you know the affordances of the technology. You cannot stop a leak with tissue paper.  Neither will sea water do anything about your thirst. People often get frustrated with computers because they struggle to do what they want them to do while in the meantime they are trying to do something that the program is not designed to do.

How can technology be used in the examples above? 

There are lots of options to do quick tests on the internet. The biggest advantage is that if cleverly set up, the test can be marked automatically, and teacher and learners will get immediate feedback. More time can be saved by using pre-set tests like IXL.co.za.
You can also use Google forms with Flubaroo or Socrative to set your own quizzes.

Anybody who has ever started a blog will know that it is the ideal medium to force you to write consistently. And it is true that the more you write, the better your writing becomes. Blogs are a lot easier to read than taking stacks of books home, and if you get learners to comment on each other’s blogs, you will soon find that it is not necessary that you read every post. For younger students using a closed blog like kidblog.org or edublog.org might be the best whereas you can use Blogspot or WordPress with older learners.

Online simulations will never replace doing an actual experiment, but if the choice is between nothing or online simulations, then they are better than nothing.

As I said, technology is not a silver bullet, but it can enable your learners to have a richer learning experience.

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