An essential skill taught when I attended Teachers’ College as a trainee in the 1970’s was how to thread a projector. In those simpler days, showing a film to a class was cutting edge pedagogy. This involved considerable organisation and time either moving students to a designated film room or out of school, on a ‘field trip’, to the local cinema. Teacher handouts were handwritten or typed onto Banda paper, then copies run off on the spirit-duplicator, the purple indelible ink staining hands and ruining clothes. This was the extent of the use of technology in classroom practice.
In a short time span, the way we work, learn and play has been transformed by the internet, readily accessible anytime and anywhere on our mobile devices. Can you imagine life now without a mobile phone? Most secondary school students carry this powerful device or something similar in their school blazer pocket along with a laptop in their backpack. Being connected to the world, and their friends, is a part of their every moment. As educators we can see this as a distraction to their learning; however it is our job to embrace it and imaginative teachers find creative ways to use a student’s connectivity to their advantage in the classroom.
Early last year the Government recognized this by promoting pro-digital literacy learning, Nikki Kaye, to Associate Education Minister. Following this she announced a 21st Century learning reference group, to provide expert advice on 21st century learning environments and digital literacy in schools. The group made up of 14 includes Tim Copeland a director and one of three founders of Wellington-based internet services company SilverStripe and Dr Allan Sylvester a lecturer at the School of Information Management at Victoria University of Wellington. This group recognized the need for professional development around the digital literacy, while the government has aimed for all schools in New Zealand to have increased access to digital learning opportunities – 97.7% of schools will have fibre connections, and the most remote schools (2.3%) will have wireless or satellite connections by 2016. Online and on-demand assessment have been signaled by the CEO of NZQA, Karen Poutasi, with initial implementation starting in two or three years’ time.
With both teachers and students mobile and connected, it is an exhilarating time to be in education. Take second language learning for example. Through the reach of the internet there is a wealth of online content in target languages. e-pals can be Skyped and on-line dictionaries and programmes such as Language Perfect accessed, where they can pit themselves against students from over 25 countries in the world. In other areas of the curriculum, students go on virtual field trips to Stonehenge or ‘walk’, virtually, around the Sistine Chapel. Some courses are now delivered online using video conferencing. The provider might be in New Zealand or on the other side of the world. At my College, students can take an online course delivered by an educational firm based in Oxford, UK, contracted by the International Baccalaureate Organisation whose main office is located at The Hague.
In the past it was deemed an essential skill for a teacher to thread the film projector. Today, it is essential that all teachers embrace the new digital technologies and weave these appropriately into their classroom practice. The richness of experiences afforded by the digital environment adds new, before now unimagined, dimensions to how, when and where our young people learn. At the same time students must learn to be cybersafe. This is the joint responsibility of school and parent. School networks are often protected by high fire walls and can block websites. However at interval or lunch a student’s mobile phone allows them to step into a much larger virtual playground off school networks. It is important we teach them how to use the internet with purpose. Parents can find information on this @ www.netsafe.org.nz It is full of great tips to keep your child safe online.