Reflections of a Trainee Teacher – @EarlyYearsIdeas

“He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” ~ Richard Henry Dann

The Internet is my Teacher

This morning my brain is buzzing with a thousand thoughts. Through a connection on Twitter (did I mention that I love social media?) I was advised to listen to a wonderful show on BBC iPlayer entitled ‘My Teacher is an App‘.

This is a fascinating piece about the ever increasing role of technology in education. Much of it is centred around America’s ‘Silicon Valley’, but the points made are equally valid in a UK context.

On the show, various professionals discussed their opinion of where education is headed. At the beginning of the show, it was mentioned that we are moving towards a society of one to one computing in an educational situation. Some of the proposed advantages of this include:

  • high levels of engagement
  • Personalised learning
  • Up to date information and resources (as opposed to textbooks which quickly date and become obsolete)

The radio program introduced us to Salman Khan; the creator of Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a non-profit organisation which provides short instructional videos/ lectures in the form of Youtube videos. This means that they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Khan proposes that our current models of teaching (involving grouping students and standardised testing) are vastly outdated and suggests that the Khan Academy model is more suited to the learners of today.

Below is a ‘Ted Talks’ video of Salman Khan discussing the use of his videos in learning:

As Sarah Montague (the radio presenter) points out; one of the huge benefits of teaching in this way is that pupils can learn at their own pace. A video can be paused, rewound or re-watched as many times as a learner requires in order for them to grasp the concept. There is also no fear of ridicule from peers, as no-one needs to know how quickly or slowly you are learning.

Click here to see some of the Khan Academy Videos

Within his talk, Khan mentions the idea of the ‘flipped classroom’. This is a model where traditional teaching and learning methods are reversed. Students are required to watch short educational videos at home before the lesson, and in class time they undertake tasks which are more like traditional homework activities. It is suggested that this method will allow teachers to spend more time addressing children’s individual needs, whether that be support for specific problems, or challenge for the more able.

The BBC radio show also discusses the use of video gaming in learning. Nolan Bushnell, the “father of modern video gaming” and founder of Atari, discusses his online resource: Brain Rush. This is a website full of short, educational games, designed to allow learners to develop skills quickly. Bushnell speaks about making learning fun and addictive, claiming that children can learn almost anything through gaming. It is also suggested that gaming can help pupils to review and memorise information, although these claims cannot yet be substantiated.

One group of schools in America which have embraced the use of technology is Rocketship Education. In these schools, children spend around a quarter of their school day online.  Results in these schools are said to be very high and Rocketship suppose that this model of teaching will help to close the attainment gap. One of the issues of this model of teaching and learning is that the use of technology means that fewer teachers are employed. On the other hand, those teachers who are employed, are paid very competitive rates compared to standard teachers.

Taking digital learning even further, is the idea of ‘Virtual Schools’. In this situation, students do not attend school in the traditional sense, rather, they are responsible for undertaking their own learning via the internet and technology.

I find the idea of technology gradually replacing teachers rather unsettling. While I am completely on board with personalised learning and tapping in to the tools which engage children, I do not feel that the social and emotional aspects of development can be met without building the strong and important relationships with teachers and significant adults. In my opinion, technology and digital tools should be used alongside teachers and lessons, in ways that extend and deepen pupils’ knowledge and understanding.

Image from morguefile.com

When discussing Virtual Schools on the radio show, Sarah Montague raised the same issue that immediately popped into my head – what is keeping the children from becoming distracted and going off to do something else? While pupils may be motivated to learn about subjects that interest them, I cannot imagine them maintaining the self discipline to persevere at more challenging subjects, when temptations such as video games or TV are close by.

Never the less, virtual schools are a concept which may be appearing within the UK. In 2014, the Telegraph posted THIS ARTICLE proposing plans for a state funded ‘virtual school’.

Towards the end of ‘My Teacher is an App’, listeners were presented with a theory of learning and education which contrasts completely with the previous, highly technology based models.

The Waldorf approach places focus on child development through free play and expression through art, music and nature. These schools emphasise playing and exploring through natural and organic experiences. In this type of education, the use of technology is discouraged until children are older (around 13 years) and it is even suggested that technology could impact negatively on children’s ability to form relationships and express themselves creatively. Find out more about the Waldorf approach HERE.

Image from morguefile.com

Shields and Behrman (2000) also believe that excessive use of technology may have numerous dangerous effects on children, including access to unsuitable content, and reducing physical activity which may lead to obesity. In THIS JOURNAL, they discuss the need to limits and strict controls on the use of technology with children.

I am fascinated by the idea of the Khan Academy, Brain Rush, and the flipped classroom, and would love to see it in action within a real class. Despite this, I have to wonder whether it could actually work in our schools. While many pupils do have access to computers, tablets, phones or other devices to access the internet, there are those who do not. How does this model of teaching and learning support those who cannot access the videos before the class? Maybe a school which uses this model would provide access to ICT facilities before/ after school so that all pupils have the opportunity to access the resources?

Another issue of using technology in education is that many schools do not have the budget to provide computers/ devices for all pupils to use. Or, some schools do have computers, but they are old, slow, outdated machines which take an age to load and are perhaps cannot run the software that you want to use. I wonder if the rise of technology in education will create further inequality between schools, where some can access resources which others cannot.

Image from morguefile.com

I find it interesting that there appears to be a divide between the big push for outdoor learning and learning through nature (such as Forest Schools), and the growing role of technology in education. My opinion is that, like everything in life, there needs to be a balance. I firmly believe in the value of free play and natural play, but can also see that technology has an important and increasing role to play in children’s learning. It is the role of the teacher to provide opportunities for both.

Listening to the radio show has opened my eyes to some of the wonderful digital tools and resources which exist, and ways in which technology may start to change the way in which our education system works. Whether or not Virtual Schools take off, or the ‘flipped classroom’ begins to appear in more schools; I can see how teachers and educational professionals must continue to be flexible and reflective as discover the best ways to teach their pupils.

References and Links:

BBC Radio 4: My Teacher is an App

Khan Academy Website

Brain Rush Website

Rocketship Education Website

Paton, G. (2014) New Plan for Britain’s first state-funded ‘Virtual School. The Telegraph

Shields, M. and Behrman, R. (2000) ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’ in Children and Computer Technology, 10(2).

Driscoll, A. and Nagel, N. Waldorf Approach. Education.com.

 

 

 

One comment on “The Internet is my Teacher

  1. Philip
    November 28, 2016

    Interesting summary of some pros and cons of digital learning. Digital learning is going through that phase of ‘are you for it’ or ‘against it’? In the end we will have it inspite of reservations and protests. The Luddites smashed up mills in the 18th century, but here we are, basking in the dawn of the new digital age after crawling out from under the weight of industrial carnage!
    The questions of access and funding are really a sideshow. What is the dilemma is the question of knowledge acquisition and how the digital learning environment is driven algorithmically, and hence, responded to, algorithmically. The software does not know fully the pupil sitting before the computer and can’t respond (or at the moment, does not respond) to the complex humanity of the learner, the pupil, the child, the human. For example. Take online assessment. I remember a placement at a school that was 90% ‘Asian’ in its ethnic make up. The school was employing an online assessment tool for literacy. The majority of the children had parents and family members that had English as their second language. The questions the assessment was asking them did not, could not, ’empathise’ with the pupils’ backgrounds. The relationship of a teacher and the children in their class (usually for a whole year; I am referring to primary school), has the opportunity to get to know them individually and develops an understanding of the child’s abilities and capabilities.

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