28 October 2012

21st Century Teachers

Following six difficult ‘teaching’ years tantamount to herding cats, I left the UK in search of ‘teaching Utopia’. I landed in the Middle East, where behaviour was improved and my teaching evolved into some semblance of the shaping of minds that I'd dreamed of. However, the ‘state of the art’ facilities I’d been promised were sadly lacking. The ban on all electronic devices in school seemed anachronistic so next came a move to SE Asia, into a world of Apple Macs that changed that way I teach forever.

1:1 Systems and Google Apps for Education
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Classes were small, learners IT-savvy and Wi-Fi strong and through 1:1, I discovered Google Apps for Education (GAFE). The ability to create interactive multimedia Google sites as learning platforms, revolutionised the way I approached teaching. I went from a ‘teacher’ to a ‘facilitator of learning’ - my lessons were no longer paper references instructing me what to do to them; they became sites authored directly for the learners as the audience. It changed everything.

GAFE allows learners to be in the classroom even when they aren’t; frameworks and resources are collected together and accessible for all; learners’ work can be showcased to the community. Learners are able to collaborate both in and out of the classroom - in literature circle work for example, documents are shared via Google Docs and learners meet up via Google Hangout to complete the reading. Literature Circles can be completed without the technology - on paper, with reading done individually - but the interest levels and ability to rely on each other is enhanced when all learners have access to these technologies. As long as there is access.
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In a 1:1 school, planning and design happens in the knowledge that learners all have access - which is not the case everywhere. Economics and Internet access are obstacles to these technologies and whilst GAFE is free, schools need a 1:1 environment or at least plenty of computers available for it to be successful. The majority of GAFE work well on most devices meaning Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes can also benefit though whilst GAFE is free, costs arise in Wi-Fi, as there needs bandwidth to support it. Nothing frustrates learners (or teachers) more than interactive lessons crumbling with network downtime. Online teaching means teachers must be prepared with hard copies or alternative activities available for such situations.

Equally, GAFE is huge and can be daunting for learners and teachers alike. In order to be successful, teachers must buy-in to believing that learning experience is improved; teachers also need to be one step ahead in order for it to work effectively; we must, as stated in Lecture 1, become 21st century teachers and know our stuff. This adds cost to school in terms of training. I am lucky enough to work in a school that actively encourages professional learning and every teacher was allowed the opportunity to attend the GAFE Singapore Summit in September – where my exposure to Twitter as an educational technology arose.

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At the GAFE summit I was learning so much so quickly, it became my tool of choice for sharing and the contacts I made from this has rippled out increasing my PLN exponentially - I learned about this course; I started Quadblogging and have forged links between other schools to start collaborative work. It is my go-to tool for increasing knowledge - surely the potential is there for learners to experience this too? I set up a Project Twitter account, with a specific Twitter role defined in each group though I have yet to evaluate it as a tool for learners. However, I read an article recently confirming that research has shown that Twitter ‘does make students more engaged’ (Edudemic, 2012). Incidentally, I found this article via Twitter.

Once learners have access to the Internet via 1:1 (or BYOD) the world is at their fingertips. Our responsibility as 21st century teachers is to keep up! Are these technologies sustainable? Who knows? The world of IT is ever changing and technologies are updated incessantly. Whilst it is impossible to determine whether Google or Twitter will be around in ten years, the skills we need to deal with these technologies are sustainable. Technology is not going to go away, it is going to get bigger. We need to teach learners how to discern the right tool for the job and mange their lives and the multitude of applications they will need to juggle. Using social media is an important 21st century skill. The extent of how it informs their learning is to be seen, but we need to learn to navigate this ever-changing world and help learners be safe and successful digital citizens within it.

"It’s Official: Using Twitter Makes Students More Engaged | Edudemic." It’s Official: Using Twitter Makes Students More Engaged. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. http://edudemic.com/2012/10/its-official-using-twitter-makes-students-more-engaged/.

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