Teachers going digital

Does your school’s IT policy state that the institution is committed to creating learners who are proficient and comfortable users of information and communication technologies? That’s not a bad idea these days when cellphones and computers are becoming all pervasive in the workplace, at home and even at play.

A strange statistic that proves this point is that recently laptop computers have become the preferred object of choice in house burglaries. There is obviously high demand on the black market.

Another significant indicator is that as I write this article on my laptop at a restaurant at the airport I can see seven other businessmen hard at work on theirs. As some of them leave to catch their flights they are replaced by others.

So preparing learners to use these technologies effectively is a good way to prepare them to be active and useful citizens in the digital age. So, how computer literate are you and your educator colleagues?

From what I have seen on numerous trips to schools in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa is that while learners are willing to try and want to experiment with computers, teachers often trail behind feeling inadequate, even threatened.

Many teachers believe they need to be an expert, an authority, before they can comfortably deploy these technologies in their teaching.

They feel they must be able to anticipate questions and feel secure that they can answer any query fired at them. Any teacher who has used information and communication technologies in his or her teaching knows that this is an impossible ideal.

Teachers of IT and computer applications technology, for example, soon realise that they can learn from the learners whose interests are much wider than the narrow confines of the curriculum.

However, there is no doubt that to start using these technologies in your teaching, a degree of familiarity with ICT systems is important. Familiarity allows you to ensure the technology remains in a supporting role and does not dominate your lesson.

Familiarity allows you to troubleshoot potential pitfalls or distractions that might arise. Familiarity allows you to become more adventurous in your lesson design.

So, look across the staffroom at your colleagues and pick out one who you think would never embrace ICT in hundred years. How might you get him or her to be familiar with digital technologies? Any ideas?

If you are reading this column I assume you are one of the converted. So think back to your own experience.

How did you become familiar with computers?

Most likely you had an opportunity to use a computer on a regular basis. You either bought your own or had regular access to one either at work or at a friend.

You most likely did not go on many formal computer courses – they are so expensive after all – and, if questioned, you would say that you worked out most of what you know by trial and error and experimentation. That was my experience. It’s time to allow that staff member you picked to have a similar experience.

The directorate of curriculum innovation within the national education department is about to embark on an ambitious Laptop for Teachers Programme. You probably read about this in last month’s edition of the Teacher.

According to the plan, it is putting together a package that will allow teachers to acquire laptop computers to be used for teaching. The thinking is to provide teachers with a subsidy or allowance of about R1 500 a year for five years. The finer points are still being worked out.

One model being considered is to offer a number of different laptop options in which teachers can “top up” over and above the subsidy or allowance. The laptops can be replaced after five years and the subsidy or allowance will continue for the duration of the teacher’s career.

The package might also include internet via a card or fixed line, wind-up generators and solar-powered batteries. These additional extras are designed to be of use to teachers who live in both rural and urban areas. The programme is expected to be rolled out in the 2009-10 financial year.

Interestingly no face-to-face training is anticipated at this point, despite criticism from teachers’ unions. Teachers will have to apply for the subsidy or allowance as it will not be given automatically. This means you will have to convince that teacher, who you pointed out earlier, of the merits of owning his or her own computer.

Still, if this programme is successful, it could go a long way in empowering staff. And if learners use ICT in their studies they could become proficient users of the tools. A win-win situation? Watch this space for details once they are finalised.

Andrew Moore is a former teacher. He has a MEd in computer-assisted education. He works for Neil Butcher and Associates, an education technology consulting company

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