Can devices in the classroom really be worth the effort and the risk? What are the skills they are actually gaining from all that swiping?
When talking about the uptake of technology into a classroom, parents are often a little nervous. When contemplating what year level devices and tablets should be introduced or whether they should be compulsory, there is still some trepidation with which many parents tread. And understandably so. It is a world that is still largely unknown to many people, especially if they are not immersed in it for work or play.
It is a world often plagued by fearful media reporting of all the things that can go wrong. It is also a world where we still have little data in terms of outcomes, both positive and negative, purely because those most immersed in the technology for education are not yet old enough to have any data analysed. So I understand the apprehensiveness of parents when handing over devices to their little people as they head out the door.
As someone who has witnessed many schools taking on ‘one to one’ or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs however, there are a few things that probably need clarification.
It is true that some schools do the whole technology thing much better than others.
It is also true that some teachers do the whole technology thing better than others.
That being said, it is fair to say that as we learn and experiment and use the research and data we do have, the way the technology is being utilised and incorporated into the classroom is certainly getting better and better all the time.
It is also important to note that devices in the classroom are not simply a replacement for books and pens and paper.
Done well, the technology offers a vastly more effective means for kids to not only gain knowledge, but become far more in control of their own learning and therefore the learning they are doing becomes more relevant to them. More relevant learning means better outcomes.
The skills our kids need today have changed. They need to be collaborators, creators, communicators, critical thinkers and these are the skills that the technology helps to build upon. Here are some examples of how the technology can help facilitate these 21st century skills into the learning and growth of our young students and help parents step forth into the world of digital education with a little more confidence and even some enthusiasm.
Making movies, writing songs, visual presentations, audios, podcasts, blogs. There are so many ways our kids can use the technology to be creative. Having the choice of how best to showcase their work and with what medium to use, also allows kids to think deeply about the messages they need to get across to their audience. The capabilities for creativity are endless and so their learning becomes so much more individual, engaging and relevant to their world and their interests.
Collaborators and Team Players
The nature of technology allows for communication and collaborative learning. Even social networks, which of course are social by nature, allow for the very important skills of interaction to be developed. Despite the fear that screens are ‘anti social’ and ‘dumbing down’ communication skills, much of the technology is made for thinking and working together. Video games for example are increasingly used to facilitate learning, and require much team work, observation and communication. Think of kids playing Minecraft as a team and the collaboration that needs to happen to get something built. What materials, time frame, hazards and dangers are to be avoided? The ease with which work can be shared also allows for teams of students to work on projects together. These skills of collaboration are certainly key skills to be developed in a world that is so global and interactive.
There is obviously a lot of content, research and information our kids have access to online. How to find the good stuff becomes a skill unto itself. But the information that is there provides so many opportunities for kids to explore, to decide whether it is useful, disregard that which is not, and utilise it in a way that is meaningful to them. That in itself is no mean feat. Particularly when we are looking at the volumes of information online and the unregulated nature of content online. But there is a myriad and an endless supply of stuff to explore and it can certainly add to our children’s knowledge and learning.
Sifting through all that endless content requires critically thinking about relevancy and truth. But there are many other ways our kids need to think critically and using the technology early helps them build on these skills. They begin to ask themselves questions such as: How do I know if this is fact or opinion? How do I know if this is true and valid? How do I know this person is who they say they are? Is the message I am wanting to send being received correctly? Is the perception of myself online the right perception I want to put out into the world? Is lack of context or tone of voice going to affect my message? Is there anyone who could be offended or hurt by what I am saying? All of these questions will help them as they become more immersed in the online world and the challenges of transparency and a public playground becomes more obvious.
Many times a child will start a poster only to decide a short video will be better. They may play around with fonts (a little too long in some cases) but they may experiment with design, with different medias, with different apps and they will learn something every time they do. They can try something and delete it if it doesn’t work. They get lots of chances to change, experiment and think outside the box and this allows them to push themselves further.
These are just some of the skills that are going to be imperative for many, many kids as they make their way through adolescents and head towards careers and adulthood. So by all means be aware of the pitfalls of the technology and a life with screens, but also, be engaged and excited about the many wonderful opportunities that await your children, both in the classroom and beyond.