It is that time of year again and I am feeling a little more refreshed and almost ready for another year of new faces, familiar faces and some who I know but can’t quite put a name to. I am sort of ready for the challenge, well, I have lots of ideas turning round my head at 2am when I should be asleep, but somehow when I try to remember what they were in the cold light of day they are kind of elusive! I have been reading lots of links that have been posted on Twitter and other Social networking sites of which I am a member and have got quite excited by some of the content but my thoughts are still a little jumbled, my brain still feels a little woolly.
This article prompted me to think about one aspect of my job this year; encouraging and training colleagues to use technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning. I have already looked at the e-learning planning framework and made some notes about where we as a school, sit in the continuum. As I clicked on some of the links and skimmed some of the articles, I somehow came upon a link to Skype in the Classroom, got distracted looking at some of the projects, created a classroom account and created my own project for my Spanish students. Looking forward to getting some responses but I am not too hopeful that they will flood in. Part of the problem of living and teaching European languages in NZ is that when we are in the classroom, Europe is in bed! We will see….
I was away for a month on a school trip to Cambodia & Vietnam and returned to an inbox overflowing with daily posts from LinkedIn and the NZ teachers VLN. There is so much discussion going on about education, elearning, online forums seem to be as busy as ever despite (or maybe because of) the holiday period. I found it quite overwhelming trying to sift through the posts, so I am afraid, I gave up! I am sure that many of the discussions will be ongoing, and those that have relevance to me will continue and I can catch up with them when I can.
This video “Shift Happens” is not new but it still has resonance for me.
Since I started teaching in 1985, the way that I teach has changed, hopefully for the better as I have reflected on what works and what doesn’t and adapted and refined my practice to improve my skills and to enhance the learning of my students. But what has changed even more are the tools that I have been able to use to teach. As a language teacher, I remember the early mornings in school to get to the banda machine before anyone else to run off the colourful works of art I had laboriously created the night before for my classes. The smell of bander fluid in my nostrils, warm sheets of paper and inky covered hands I would float off to my classroom to face the day! Now I can create documents on my computer send directly to a school printer and pick up as I walk into my office, I can also upload worksheets and assignments directly to the school LMS so that the students can download them into their own homes, I can share them through Google Docs, create on-line quizzes which I can mark at my computer and completely bypass paper altogether. I used to use a reel-to-reel tape recorder ( the first school I taught in was not at the forefront of technology!) , then a cassette recorder, then CDs. Sony Walkmans allowed students to listen individually to cassettes I recorded, prepared and copied, now I can record a podcast and upload it so that the students can download directly to their MP3 players in minutes rather than hours. All this technology has made it easier for me to create and deliver, but how has it enhanced the way that I actually teach and the way that my students learn? This is a question that I keep coming back to and, yes, I know all the stock answers, but I still doubt myself and whether I am making a difference and whether the methods I use are having the impact I hope that they have.
I am not a very methodical person, I am attracted by “new ways of doing”, I hate standing still and I hate repeating things too often, so I am a bit of a sucker for new gadgets and things that offer me a new way of trying things out. I am conscious that I do not always follow things through; I am experimental, but do I always reflect properly on how the experiment turned out and whether it was worthwhile? Do I make changes based on results or on gut feeling? I know that, at the end of the day, it is how we teach, how we engage with our students, how we inspire them that is important and not the tools we use. However, I wonder if because using technology inspires me and makes me excited, by using it in my classroom, it also makes the “how” more exciting too so that my students catch my bug for the way that technology can help them to learn. I hope so.
In Cambodia one of the biggest challenges to progress and development as a country is education; one third of the population was murdered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, most of those were the educated people, the doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, musicians, writers, painters. As a result the country now has a population which does not have a history of formal learning, does not have people who aspire to academia, to learning, to developing a professional class. Because of their past, they are a people reluctant to look to the future, to the long term, to developing an infrastructure of learning just in case it all gets wiped out again. It is a country of farmers, of agricultural workers, unskilled workers, uneducated who are content to live to survive, to produce enough food to feed a family, or maybe a cooperative community. They have short term goals and low expectations. We met a man who is desperate to see change; his vision is to provide the local, rural communities with centres where the whole community can access education. Mobile technology is one way that that this might be able to work. Most of the people have mobile phones, computer hardware is cheap, there is relatively easy access to internet although the infrastructure is expensive to put into place especially for establishments that do not create money. Internet access in the towns in internet cafes is everywhere and very cheap; getting the same access out to rural communities is much more expensive. Many children do not attend school because their parents do not see it as a priority; if they can get the parents to see that education is worthwhile, the kids will too. If they can make the parents excited about how they can access education, they can excite their children too. If they can make it easy for parents to access education, they will make sure their children get it too. They have labour intensive jobs, their wealth is dependent on the harvest, a good harvest is dependent on the input from the workers at seeding time, at transplanting time at harvest time. It is essential that they start to make the connection between that success and the success that they could have if they invest the same effort into education. They still have to work the paddy fields, the children are needed for that work but think about how mobile technology could help them work in the fields and also access education?
I am conscious that I have rambled a bit here and I am not too sure of the point I wanted to make! Reading back over what I have written, I think that maybe we dwell rather too much on the hows and the whys of education and learning when we have the luxury of taking for granted something that large numbers of the world’s population do not have access to at all.