Teaching through, not with technology

Future classrooms: Educators need to embrace the possibilities of technology in learning rather than seeing it as just a distraction

Future classrooms: Educators need to embrace the possibilities of technology in learning rather than seeing it as just a distraction

The success or failure of introducing technology into the classroom often rests with the teacher who is tasked with integrating it into their teaching methodology.

Placing technology in a classroom is only the first step, and won’t in itself necessarily produce effective results.

“The evidence is overwhelming that students benefit from the use of technology in the classroom,” says Robyn Beere, director of Inclusive Education South Africa.

But she points out that most teachers are “scared of technology”.

“A cellphone can be a learning resource in the classroom, but many teachers ban the use of them in their lessons,” she says.

In Beere’s opinion the South African schooling system needs an attitudinal adjustment, if students are going to benefit from the use of new technologies.

Michael Goodman, group content manager for Via Afrika, agrees.

“The key issue is the ability of the teacher to implement the technology in the classroom,” says Goodman. “We need to start thinking in terms of teaching through technology and not teaching with technology.”

Via Afrika is one of South Africa’s leading educational publishing companies; it produces textbooks in two formats, epub (electronic publication) and flipbook (a series of pictures that appear to animate as the “pages” are flicked rapidly) for tablets and PCs respectively. 

Stakeholders in the education sector that the Mail & Guardian spoke to over the last week pointed to the fact that technology vendors are all too happy to donate technology to schools, because they have a vested interest in ensuring their technologies are the ones chosen for adoption.

However, often the support for teachers who have had new technology dumped upon them is lacking, which impacts on the success of implementing the new technology.

In 2015 Via Afrika began donating digital education centres to rural schools.

Essentially these centres are converted shipping containers filled with 15 tablets, a computer, ebooks, apps, a library of printed books and Wi-Fi internet access with data.

Teachers at the schools where these centres are donated are trained fortnightly on how to use the various technologies, how to plan and present a lesson incorporating digital material, and how to facilitate and manage the use of technology in the classroom.

Via Afrika chief executive Christina Watson said that this training is essential to maximise the educational returns of introducing tablets into the classroom.

Mochudu Machaba, a grade five and six teacher at Ngwanamago Primary School, situated about 25km from Polokwane, has demonstrated what can be achieved if teachers embrace technology in their classrooms.

Machaba was recognised in the Microsoft Innovative Teacher competition for creating a project using Microsoft’s SongSmith (a music app which generates musical accompaniment when a voice is recorded) with which her learners created their own songs and lyrics. 

While her school is poorly equipped in terms of technology, Mochudu feels that the learners deserve to at least be exposed to using it during her classes, so she prepares at home and then uses her laptop and the school’s data projector to present her lessons.

Beere supports approaches like Mochudu’s, arguing that we have to find innovative ways to use the resources that we have.

“We can’t wait until we have all the technology that we want,” she says. “We are a country that has limited resources.”

Janet Thomson is executive director of SchoolNet South Africa, a nongovernmental organisation that focuses on providing training for teachers and educational managers.

It works closely with the departments of education at both national and provincial levels and has also partnered with international technology companies including Intel, Microsoft, Adobe and Google Education, and local partners such as Vodacom, Telkom and Anglo Platinum. 

“Educational technology interventions often forget about the ‘educational’ part and consider interventions to be completed once they have installed the technology,” says Thomson. “This results in teachers not being trained and consequently, hardware remaining unused.”

She says that often teachers are provided with once-off basic IT literacy training, which she calls “hit-and-run training”. This kind of training is devoid of context concerning how to actually teach through the technology.

“If possible, trainers should be able to continue to support teachers,” she says.

Thomson says that teachers who use their tablets out of school are more confident in using the devices in their classrooms. Teachers who spend time exploring games and apps on their tablet are able to make connections with the curriculum and better integrate the devices into their lesson plans.

Thomson says the attitude of the school’s leadership, management and that of department of education officials can make or break the take-up of technology in a school, and for that reason SchoolNet has a professional development course directly targeting this leadership.

Odette Swift, director for deaf education at the Deaf Federation of South Africa, says that the sign language curriculum for deaf learners requires teachers to have a working knowledge of video creation and editing software packages.

“This was not considered during the sign language curriculum training, where the focus was on linguistics and understanding,” she says.

This has resulted the curriculum is not being effectively implemented, as the teachers, for example, do not know how to transfer video from a recording device to the computer and then into a video editor to produce a final product.

Thomson says the national department of basic education is working on a teacher education framework, which, it is hoped, will solve many of the problems being experienced as new technologies are integrated into the classroom.

“It has not been released for comment yet; we are still at the draft stage,” says Thomson. “But experts from around the country have been included in the reference group and we are looking forward to its finalisation and dissemination.”

Asked for comment, the department of basic education’s Kulula Manona — who deals with learning and teaching support materials — informed the M&G that because the framework was in its elementary stages they couldn’t talk about it at the moment, but were looking forward to doing so when it is further along in the process.

Lloyd Gedye