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February 29, 2012

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Technology can enhance learning

IF it was not for an opportunity in 2003 that brought him to Wuhan, Hubei Province, to teach English for six months, Christopher Westcott would have been an office clerk in the IT department of a big multinational accounting firm in Chicago.

"It is an inner calling for me to be a teacher, though I took a detour in that firm many years ago," says the 37-year-old IT teacher in Yew Chung International School of Shanghai's Pudong campus, where he has been teaching for almost four years.

"Teaching is a lifestyle. It is not something I can just quit doing when I go home. Students, lesson plans and assessments are always being worked on," he says. "That is something I miss from my old IT work where I could leave work at work and not think about it until the next day. But as an educator, I am a stakeholder in the fabric of society that nurtures the development of knowledge, and at an international school, this is at a global level."

In 1997 after the Mathematics BA holder received his shiny new license to teach, he started working for Deloitte in its IT department in Chicago.

He was planning to stay in the IT field until he took a leave to teach English for a half year in China.

"I fell in love with China, and fell in love with teaching again," he recalls. "If anything, the trip caused a return to my original calling as a teacher. Nine year later, I am still here in China, and I am still teaching."

Everyday life for an IT teacher is busy. As an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) integrationist and educator, Westcott juggles multiple schedules, his own and the schedules built around the computer labs.

He teaches IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) ICT, preparing the students for an externally assessed exam from Cambridge.

He gives lessons on Information and Communication Technology, and also serves as a technology integrationist for the team of teachers. He offers application support, exploring programs and websites that are not just Microsoft Office and Google Search, but in the likes of Pages, Photoshop, Prezi or the utilization of the school's online library databases.

"I also attend weekly department meetings, and discuss with teachers their upcoming units," he says. "As partners in the process, we brainstorm ways we can integrate the technology we have into the objectives of their subject, usually in ways that prepare the students to communicate the information they have learned in effective ways."

In between teaching and partnering with teachers, he is involved in many ICT related projects and initiatives such as yearbook, grade book development, the merit and demerit process, website resources and department planning.

"My job keeps me busy, but I just love it. I love being a teacher and love being with my students," he says. "I live for those moments when students see how they can use a new tool of technology to communicate in a creative or personalized way, or when a fellow teacher decides they will change a way something is taught because they found a more effective way to do so through technology."

Westcott has headed and joined many of the school's IT projects.

He transitioned the Pudong secondary school from teaching technology in a stand-alone classroom to teaching technology in authentic situations found in all subjects.

He created the school's official grade book they have been using for two years and also helped lead the setup of the school's electronic merit & demerit system, working with the school's IT department.

"I am currently helping the school's Yearbook Committee create the Yearbook without an outside vendor using InDesign, something I am learning more about myself. As an educator, we model the fact we never stop learning," Westcott says.

In spite of the rapid development in technology, Westcott thinks teaching and learning has not changed, but the number of ways we can teach and learn has.

"As an educator and technology coach, I realize that not all tools are for everyone, but believe there are enough technology options that work for every subject, teacher and student," he says.


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