Technology in Class

Classroom Technology: Make It Your Friend Not Your Enemy

lassroom technology should be the teacher’s friend.

Schools need to reflect the big picture of what’s happening in society, and teachers need to feel confident they can use the technology which is the common currency of the world we live in.

Of course technology in the classroom is nothing new. The need to enable large numbers of students to acquire and retain knowledge has meant that schools have always relied on the technology of the day, from basic communication media such as books, chalk and pens via the huge advances of radio, TV, video, Xerox machines et al, to the staggering power of the very latest classroom technology of today, powered by the microprocessor.

Traditionally however, teachers have not always appreciated the benefits that technology can bring to the classroom.

It’s surprising just how many classrooms, even now, rely on traditional methods of teaching and learning: textbooks, notebooks, students collecting information using pen and pencil.

Actually,whiteboards have replaced blackboards in most classrooms, and of course all schools have invested heavily in computer suites, but these are used mainly to instruct students in how information technology works, as a discrete discipline, complete with proficiency tests and examinations, but often not used outside these narrow parameters, in real applications.

Computers have become an end in themselves rather than a means to an end – to assist learning and the pursuit of knowledge.

This is a generalisation of course: in truth, many teachers do embrace classroom technology and use it in very imaginative and exciting ways to enhance the quality of the learning experiences they offer students.

Laptops and data projectors have become essential tools for many teachers who spend a lot of time exploring the ever increasing store of teacher software that is available.

The digital revolution has not stopped at laptops and projectors.Students who have grown up as part of the digital generation are very savvy about all applications of digital technology and some teachers, especially younger ones, have become equally savvy about how to tap into this common digital inheritance and use it in class to great effect.

Cell phones, SMS messaging, MP3 downloads, cloud technology can all now be harnessed to ‘keep it real’ as far as classroom learning is concerned.

Blogging and social networking sites are also starting to play a part in pushing the envelope for technology in the classroom.

There is even a place for, and a growing body of expertise in how to use, digital gaming and simulations in class, as ways not only to explore new areas of knowledge but also to reinforce learning.

Part of the problem with digital technology for schools is how easy it has made access to all kinds of information, and schools, rightly, see the need to introduce security measures, for all kinds of reasons, not least child protection issues.

The digital revolution has made access to information much more democratic; when anyone can find out anything about anything by going online, schools face a difficult balancing act. On the one hand they need to ensure safe and principled use of available means of accessing information through technology, but on the other, they know they have to embrace classroom technology to retain credibility with their students and to ensure they adhere to the principles of giving all students an education fit for purpose in the modern world.

As with all technological advances some teachers are ahead of the curve, most appreciate the professional need to keep up to date, and a few will try hard to ignore anything that requires them to change old habits, some of which they have had,literally,for a lifetime, professionally speaking.

It’s useful to consider classroom technology in the contexts mentioned above.

A useful starting point is to look at the possibilities that teacher software offers.

Often teachers feel that special, possibly expensive, software is needed to address the needs of the modern learner. This is sometimes true, but a lot can be achieved by making wide use of the basic productive functions such as word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program and database.

Probably most teachers are comfortable now with basic word proceessing, but are less confident about using spreadsheets, let alone databases. Presentation programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint have proved to be great tool for teachers in conjunction with data projectors.

It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on software such as Microsoft Office, although it now comes bundled at competitive prices with many computer packages. There is an excellent free alternative called Open Office that’s easy to download. It has a wide range of functions to meet just about all your needs for basic classroom productivity. This is just one of a number of programs available as open source teacher software.

Most teachers will also feel less confident about using MP3 technology for classroom purposes. It’s not as difficult as you might think and there’s free software for recording MP3 files called Audacity.

A second major strand of classroom technology should be more accurately labelled classroom management software ,because it’s more directed at enabling teachers to track the huge amount of information about individual students that now forms the complex matrix of details that make up student profiles, and that teachers need to have at their fingertips. This information includes, cognitive ability measures, prior attainment, discipline and behavior records, family and domestic issues, attendance records and many other factors.

Teachers are now held more responsible for student achievement than ever before, and being able to have access to the ‘big picture’ of student profiles is the very least that schools should provide to teachers.

Many schools have invested heavily in this kind of classroom management software, but not all have done so yet. Decisions about the kind of system to use are out of individual teachers’ hands, but teachers can contribute to making the process a success by familiarising themselves with what classroom management software systems offer.

When the next generation of this type of software comes along, with luck, manufacturers will have taken note of what teachers have told them works well and what could work better.

Teachers have a role to play in deciding the future applications of classroom technology:the process should be a dialogue – as teachers we should get classroom technology providers to do it with us not to us.

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