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January 31, 2012

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Technology in the classroom

TEACHING and learning is changing because of technology. Access to vast amounts of information and the ability to collaborate with students in other countries is unprecedented in the history of education, creating both challenges and opportunities. International school teachers share their thoughts. Stuart White, Head of Secondary of BISS, Puxi campus

You don't have to spend too long browsing through the science fiction shelves of your local book shop to realize teachers are past their sell-by date and can be readily replaced by direct memory implants, computer terminals, memory pills or genetic engineering.

If novelists are to be believed, we are an endangered species, about to go the same way as VHS video, film cameras and books. Although, come to think of it, books are still with us, so perhaps not all tried and trusted learning methods will fade away.

It is true that the future may yet hold many twists and turns. The well-known socialist historian Eric Hobsbawn once said "the only sure thing about the future is that it will surprise even those who have looked furthest into it." I am sure he was right. It is also true that technology has appeared in today's classroom in all sorts of ways, and our children are better educated because of it. Is technology, however, a replacement for the teacher?

The answer is - as all good answers are - not so straightforward. Classrooms without teachers have proved elusive and ineffective so far, but the role of the teacher has undoubtedly changed greatly in the single generation that separates the classroom experiences of today's children and their parents.

Teachers no longer have to know everything. Our students have access to information in ways that we could only have dreamed about (or read in those science fiction books) when we were their age. They have access to more or less every piece of information recorded throughout human history just by using Google. What's more, there is simply a lot more "stuff" to know about. Students no longer need their teacher to be an encyclopedia, and the "sage on the stage" has become the "guide on the side."

Once one accepts the role of teacher as guide, the processes of modern education become clear. Students must be presented with progressively more difficult problems and challenges, and encouraged to understand and solve them. The array of technology at their disposal is formidable, and the teacher can and must help them to make effective use of it. Chris Westcott, Head of Information & Communication Technology at YCIS Shanghai

Science fiction of the past is the reality of today. Having to model the use of different technologies and demonstrate their impact on students' career paths mean teachers are always following technology developments. They place great emphasis on the use of technology in every subject taught at Yew Chung International School Shanghai. There is a Technology Integration teacher at the Pudong campus who works with fellow teachers to explore ways to apply technology in the craft of teaching and for the subjects they teach.

We also want our students to be a part of a connected school community, where learning does not stop when the school bell rings. So this year, we are using Moodle as a tool that will enhance our school community. It is an online content management tool used for three reasons: online learning, blended learning and reverse classroom. Each have their own place for learning, depending on the need.

Online learning is a great way to digest content placed online by teachers for those who can pace their own educational learning with little support. Though full courses can be learned online, the social needs of students are not fully met this way, but it's still a viable option for some.

Blended learning is using online content in ways that are social, using content placed online in the classroom. It is another medium for students and teachers to discuss subject content. It's extending the walls of the classroom to include a safe virtual place online.

The reverse classroom method is used in situations where there is great need for "doing, practicing and demonstrating mastery," of a skill in front of a teacher.

Besides the ones mentioned, we have added a new iMac lab and new Design Technology (DT) lab to the Pudong campus this year.

Though writing and drawing still happen, the computer is now the tool of choice to communicate information. Students are now using computers to express their ideas in new ways. Though books and periodicals are still a mainstay, electronic resources have been added to the school library. Amanda DeCardy, Technology Resource Facilitator at SAS

Shanghai American School embarked on a remarkable path six years ago as we developed the vision for our students and our school community. Our goal was to use technology in innovative and authentic ways to enhance learning and communication. Our aim was to promote the use of technological tools and create an environment that allows all members of the school community optimum personal and educational growth through the infusion of appropriate technology into daily school learning. Some say the only constant is change and we believe that our seamless use of technology prepares our students for our ever-changing world.

New technologies change the way we teach our students. The technology allows students to make connections, exercise creativity and practice collaboration skills. The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage and the keeper of all knowledge. Technology allows the teacher to be a skilled facilitator of learning, honing the skills necessary for our students to enter a truly global society.

Shanghai American School is a 1:1 Apple flagship school where each child in grades 6-12 has their own computer. Elementary students transition to ownership by working in a 2:1 environment in the upper grades and a guided lab environment complete with Macintosh computers, iPads and iPods for the lower grade levels. Students are digging deeper into content across the curriculum. Rather than write a single culminating report on the demise of Pompeii, students are writing scripts for newscasts where they work together to use movie making and green screening technologies to place them at the foot of the erupting Mt Vesuvius while "reporting live."

Technology has allowed students to become active participants in there own learning. Traditional parent-teacher conferences have evolved into student led conferences where students use technology to demonstrate their ongoing learning through digital portfolios. The students share what they know using technology and set goals in conjunction with their parents and teachers to build on their learning.

Michael Boll, Technology Coach and Middle School Instructor at Concordia

"Hey Mr Boll. Check this out, I just found the answer to the question you asked in class."

"Gee Karen. That is really swell. How do you know it is the correct answer?"

"Cuz it was the first one that came up on Google."

As a Middle School Humanities teacher and technology coach at Concordia International School Shanghai I frequently have conversations like this with students.

In my nearly five years teaching in Shanghai, I have watched most Shanghai international schools fold technology into their curriculum. They are incorporating laptops, smart boards and projectors and many other devices and products into their program. Tech geeks like myself love this. Normal people (ones that don't have a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Delicious and YouTube account or a blog) are not always so thrilled. Sometimes they whisper to me one of their greatest fears: "One day there will be no more need for teachers."

Contrary to this fear, technology makes teachers more relevant than ever.

My students are digital natives, yet they are often clueless about the rest of the world. They easily understand the framework programs are built upon and promptly pick up new software and devices. Yet they have very little idea how to best harness technology to create compelling output. For example, they do not know how to best use technology to conduct research or to create a well-written and edited video that includes a storyline. As I see it, the current environment fits well into a formulaic expression that defines how powerful student output can be created using technology.

Formulaic Expression

Student + Assignment Requiring Research + Search Engine - Compelling Research

Student + Assignment Requiring Research + Teacher Guided Sources = Compelling Research

Students + (Video Camera + Computer) - Visually Impressive Production With a Compelling Story

Students + (Video Camera + Computer) + Teacher Guidance = Visually Impressive Production With a Compelling Story

As we know, search engines provide students with a nearly endless supply of resources. However, most middle school students are not developmentally ready to evaluate the veracity of the many sites they meet. Nor are most all that interested in doing so. For them, and I mean this with love and affection, the goal is to find an answer (win!) and move onto the next question.

Student media productions are often visually stimulating, but frequently lack meaning. They need guidance to find the compelling elements of a good story. This is where good teachers come in.

While not all teachers know how to create a film, they do understand how to teach story writing. While not all teachers are experts in which websites have the best information, they do understand how to check sources for authenticity.

Now, just as in the past, teachers and parents must continue to play a guiding role in the intellectual development of their students. They must continue to create the scaffolding that allows students to learn at age appropriate developmental levels.

So, from my tech perspective, it frustrates me when I hear or read that technology may one day make teachers obsolete. Only the tools have changed; the students are still the same.

Toni Olivieri-Barton, Technology Coordinator at SCIS Pudong campus

It all started a few years back when a colleague introduced me to an amazing program called Eracism by Flat Classroom. In this web-based global collaboration project, middle school students discussed how to erase racism. I became interested enough that I joined the Flat Classroom Project.

In my first Flat Classroom project, upper school students deciphered the "flatteners" from Thomas Friedman's book "The World Is Flat." Along with students from all over the world, my students discussed questions like "how does wireless technology change the way we work or play?" After leading two classes through this project and another class through a project called "Digiteen," I was hooked on the Flat Classroom model.

I became interested enough that I completed the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher Course. In cooperation with two other teachers, I created "Reading Across the Globe," a program that takes a book and asks students to discuss the difference and similarities between the book and their own culture. Shanghai Community International School Pudong teacher Lisa Johnson and her fourth grade class are participating in the pilot of this program.

Other SCIS Pudong classrooms are participating in Flat Classroom projects as well. Second graders in Monwei Yung's and Kumiko Imai's classes participated in the "I-Spy Community" project. The students had to photograph and discuss their communities through a website called VoiceThread. Other students from around the world observed the documentation of our community and could then discuss the photographs and comments and guess each other's community.

SCIS Pudong third graders in Ashley Holst's and Sheri Deneef's classes are participating in "A Week in the Life." This is a lower school program that is run by Flat Classroom teachers. Students use Edmodo to communicate with their group of six students from all over the globe. Edmodo is a combination of a classroom management system and a social networking site. They work in a team with students from different schools to discuss their area of the program and create a digital project with all the students' information.Joel Gabriel Sutton, Middle School Design Technology and Music Teacher at SCIS

For the last seven years, I have been teaching computer technologies to middle and high school students. I began teaching in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the US, and now I teach here in Shanghai. I've taught nearly everything from operating systems to web page design, video editing, graphic design, and desktop publishing. Having been born into a family of educators, and going to school throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I feel blessed in having experienced first hand how computer technology has evolved and changed the world we live in.

In the past, the subjects taught were limited to either the on hand resources of the school or the personal knowledge of teachers. If a class of mine studied a unit on Chinese culture, our only exposure was to a textbook.

However, in today's schools, students not only have ample access to technology, they are often expected, if not required to use technology in nearly every subject from Language Arts to Music. The dawn of the Internet and the ability to access information have fundamentally changed the way teachers teach and the way students learn. Whereas students were once required to memorize poems and speeches, today's students are no longer expected to as the quantity of content for them to consume has increased exponentially. As for that Chinese culture lesson mentioned above, today's students in Tulsa (along with an ever increasing number of students in the rest of the world) are no longer dependent on their teacher or textbook for knowledge. Instead, they can now query the web for a near endless supply of media-rich content. In fact, from the comfort of their classrooms, they can video conference and receive lessons from a Chinese classroom in real time or take a virtual tour of a Chinese city, a museum, and much more.

As for the teacher, this not only makes our job easier, it also makes it harder as we are now responsible for teaching students how to evaluate the quality of information. Before the Internet, published information was assumed to be valid, whereas today anyone can publish anything. This makes everything online questionable until verified. Further, as technology continues to evolve and secure a leading role in our everyday lives, schools find themselves in a constant race to maintain parity with the needs of the workforce. This places a huge financial burden on our educational institutions, but to ignore technology in the classroom would be a monumental disservice to our students. As such, schools must attempt to stay current with technological trends, and more importantly, so do teachers.


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