Technology that enhances established teaching methods.
Perhaps one of the more polarizing issues discussed in today’s classroom is the role of technology in forward thinking education. Indeed, the inclusion of technological devices in the classroom inevitably leads to at least a minor loss in teacher control, most notably with the advent of text messaging and increasingly adept smartphones. That said, more sophisticated technological advances—including educa-tional games, industrial design software, and virtual learning environments—have lead to breakthroughs in education, seen specifically in student-oriented projects and improved oral communication.
Both advocates for and against technology playing a dominant role in the classroom make compelling arguments, but recent investigations have shown that technology may be informing student learning and comprehension in exceptionally productive ways.
A 2011 study conducted by the London School of Economics revealed that 85% of EU children between ages 9 and 16 use the Internet, either at home or in the classroom, for schoolwork. As such, students are accessing computers, smartphones, iPads, electronic whiteboards and other devices at unprecedented rates. For example, an international school in Zurich recently supplied all first graders with their own iPad, on which they can create self-made movies that are used for assessment and instruction. Even kindergarteners in the same school are given access to the devices, assisted by teachers who are no doubt priming them to be able to command their own iPads in the very near future. It appears, then, that there is no age too young at which to be exposed to these trendy devices. To what end are these tools helpful, though?
Chris Davies and Rebecca Eynon, both professors in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, found in their recent book ‘Teenagers careers and Technology’ (2013), that at the most basic level including technological devices in the classroom often leads toward an experience of self-directed learning, or more theoretically, a constructivist approach to learning. In short, this philosophy rests on the belief that meaningful learning occurs when students are actively involved with knowledge construction as opposed to passively receiving information. Creating your own movie to demonstrate understanding of a new concept, or building your own city using an educational game insist on active participation by the student.
Through their research Davies and Eynon also found that including devices with messaging capabilities had the potential to disrupt the collegial climate of the classroom. More compelling, however, is their discovery that students report high satisfaction with lessons and classroom experiences that incorporate technology in thoughtful and meaningful ways. That is, while the technology itself may be important to student learning, the person and the impulse behind the technology are even more crucial to its success.
GEMS World Academy in Etoy, Switzerland, is at the forefront of the movement toward successful technological adaptation in the classroom. Mark Shillitoe, Director of Digital Learning, Technology and Media, is passionate about integrating technology in intentional and creative ways. Shillitoe says, “Technology is a medium which can transform our understanding of ourselves and how we are learning. It provides us with a plethora of new approaches to constructing meaning, making connections, building relationships.” From the Science and Digital Arts Labs to the freethinking Genius Hour, GEMS World Academy-Etoy is fostering a digitally enhanced environment.
One of the school’s most successful on-going extra curricular activities is Minecraft Club, a group that meets to play its eponymous game. Through the game, players construct and manipulate their own worlds. Students have an opportunity to communicate, invent, and interact in a safe space that fosters critical thinking skills and creative collaboration, both cornerstones of the GEMS World Academy-Etoy ethos. Active learning scenarios such as Minecraft allow students to become more engaged with their classmates, and, Shillitoe comments, such an “open learning landscape is perfect for self-guided discovery and combining all ages together.”
Audrey Peverelli, founding Principal of GEMS World Academy-Etoy, also promotes this constructivism in learning and says: “Technology is an additional tool for learning that can be used for transforming learning through access to new experiences that otherwise would be impossible. It can also be used to scaffold learning through exchanges with other people,” Peverelli says. She has also found the parents to be very supportive of the curriculum aid, saying they find the addition of technology in the classroom “enlarges the spectrum of learning experiences.” The digitally rich environment created by the staff at GEMS World Academy-Etoy offers opportunities to learn 3D printing, meaningfully interact with people around the world through social media, and get involved in after-school programmes, such as the latest Coding Rock Stars. Here students explore the delicate balance between the physical and digital world by designing complex animations and games that are later shared on a global level. This, it seems, is the goal of technology in child education: to learn to communicate in a rapidly digitized world.
GEMS World Academy-Etoy specializes in developing lifelong learners, ones who are internationally minded global citizens. It is here we can see what Davies considers the most important component of adding technology to the classroom: not only having teachers and staff who are committed to learning the most relevant technologies, but using them in intentional and innovative ways .
Article by Kristina Held