Step up to digital dare

Sunday June 24, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/6/24/education/11458466&sec=education

One-off training sessions and workshops do little to help teachers become tech-savvy in this new era of teaching. Continuous hands-on training and technical support is what they need to make the most of what technology has to offer.

ARE we doing the right thing? Are our teachers ready to move towards a digital classroom?

My teenagers come home from school every day only to tell me how boring lessons were for that day. They would imitate the way the teachers spoke and almost always kind of knew beforehand what the teachers were going to say as it all only came out of the textbook they had in front of them!

The vast majority of teachers still do not feel adequately prepared to integrate technologies into their classroom teaching. Therefore they rely on traditional methods of instruction, leaving their technology tools unused!

Regular coaching: Exposing teachers to tools such as the SmartBoard helps create a change in classroom practice and makes learning fun and creative.

A lot of questions

We have been harping on using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in schools, teachers being technologically-savvy, training and more training … many a time at the expense of sacrificing teaching and learning in schools, classrooms left without a teacher, all in the name of “training”. Is this all working out? Has there been an uphill performance of teachers in class?

To teachers who attend training on use of ICT in teaching and learning: Has the training been useful? Are you applying what you learnt during the training sessions? Has the training benefited the students in enhancing their learning process? Or, are we still at the same phase we were in some 30 years ago, when you and I were in school? Do we still teach in the same way our teachers did with us? Can we do better?

Obviously classrooms have not changed very much despite all the efforts in providing teaching tools of the new era. Despite being “connected”, we remain unconnected or do not connect to our students as we should. Although research has proven that technology integration in teaching and learning can help students develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, yet the technology provided in schools is not fully utilised.

Traditional sit-and-get training sessions or one-time-only workshops have not been effective in making teachers comfortable with using technology and integrating it into their lessons. Professional development for teachers is a key issue in using technology to improve the quality of learning in the classroom.

A well-planned, ongoing professional development programme that is tied to the school’s curriculum goals, designed with built-in evaluation, and sustained by sufficient financial and staff support is vital if teachers are expected to use technology appropriately to promote learning in the classroom.

Dr Termit Kaur: Just knowing how to use a computer is not enough. Teachers must become knowledgeable about technology and be self-confident to integrate it effectively in the classroom.

Professional development activities should not be seen as a career leap but a leap in student learning. How many of us teachers go for training with improvement in student learning in mind? The ultimate goal of professional development of teachers should be to improve student learning.

Research shows that teacher quality is the factor that matters most for student learning. Teachers should therefore be provided with abundant opportunities to become fluent in using technology to bolster instruction and help students develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills.

As research suggests, there are various essential components in the professional development of teachers with regard to technology use. Examples include connection to student learning, hands-on technology use, a variety of learning experiences, curriculum-specific applications, collegial learning, active participation of teachers, sufficient time, administrative support, adequate resources, new roles for teachers, and technical assistance and support.

The essentials

Let’s look at some of these essential components and see how this can help benefit students’ learning.

Continuous professional development should enable teachers to implement new teaching techniques using technology and to help students work collaboratively, and develop higher-order thinking-skills. Teachers, in other words, must become “fearless in their use of technology” and empowered by the many opportunities it offers.

Time is often one of the many factors hindering teachers from using technology in their teaching and learning. Research shows that most teachers want to learn to use technology effectively, but they lack the time, access, and support necessary to do so.

The use of technology by teachers can encourage students to be engaged in the learning process and expose them to a broad range of information and experts.

Recent research has shown the importance of current professional development emphasising hands-on technology use. Teachers who receive technology training in the most recent times are more likely to integrate technology into their classroom lessons than teachers who have not had training.

Teachers who have continuous technology training feel better prepared to use technology in their teaching process. Hence they are more likely to use and rely on digital content for instruction. They are also more likely to spend more time searching for websites to use in class and to spend more time trying out software to be used for teaching.

Long-term learning

Teachers are given a one-off sit-down training workshop which obviously is not bringing any change to the teaching and learning process. Teachers are still not at ease to use existing technology, what more new technologies in the teaching and learning process thus making learning in classrooms a boring process.

It is time to make learning a little more interesting! Ongoing and continuous professional development experiences is what is needed to help teachers incorporate technology in ways that support powerful instruction.

Traditional workshops and how-to training sessions do not support teachers in making change happen in the teaching and learning process. Research proves that professional development for effective technology use can come in a variety of forms, such as mentoring, modelling, ongoing workshops, special courses, and structured observations.

Based on adult learning theories, professional development for adults would require relevant, concrete experiences with adequate support, appropriate feedback, and long-term follow-up. Research shows that this nature of professional development is poles apart from traditional one-time teacher workshops. It indicates that teachers discover and integrate new information best when it is presented over a long time frame instead of a single session.

Is it time to re-think our teacher professional development? It is time we move away from the one-off training sessions and one-off workshops that bring hardly any impact on the teaching and learning process. If we want teachers to integrate technology into their teaching and learning process, professional development has to be re-defined in our system.

Another important component of effective professional development for technology is access to on-site technical support personnel who are responsible for troubleshooting and assistance after the technology and lessons are in place.

When teachers are trying to use technology in their classrooms and they encounter difficulties, they need immediate help and support. Technology that is not easily accessed and implemented will not be used. Teachers will return to more traditional ways of teaching if the problems they encounter cannot be solved quickly and efficiently. Schools, therefore, have a vested interest in providing technical support.

Lack of professional development for technology use is one of the most serious obstacles to fully integrating technology into the curriculum. Whether technology should be used in schools is no longer the issue in education. Instead, the current emphasis is ensuring that technology is used effectively to create new opportunities for learning and to promote student achievement.

The bottom line

The transformation of classroom technology from hardware, software, and connections into tools for teaching and learning depends on knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers who are motivated and prepared to put technology to work on behalf of their students.

Yet, many teachers do not have the technical knowledge or skills to recognise the potential for technology in teaching and learning. Just knowing how to use a computer is not enough. Teachers must become knowledgeable about technology and self-confident enough to integrate it effectively in the classroom.

A high-quality professional development programme has to be conducted as an ongoing process, not a one-shot approach. Teachers need continued practice to become comfortable with and to implement change, especially in technology use. Professional development for technology use should provide opportunities for teachers to become comfortable and effective in using technology in their teaching.

Teachers should create a spark in the classroom by using new strategies during routine school days in the classroom. There has to be a change in practice. Teachers must use the new skills they acquire during professional development. However, follow-up support as well as opportunities for ongoing discussion and reflection on the new procedures is essential in ensuring change in the teaching and learning process.

DR TERMIT KAUR RANJIT SINGH

SCHOOL OF EDUCATIONAL STUDIES

UNIVERSITI SAINS MALAYSIA