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HundrED: Learning from other countries’ use of edtech

OpinionHigher Education
By Heather McLean | 4 May 2017
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Create DateMay 4, 2017
Last UpdatedApril 20, 2017

By Josephine Lister, editor at HundrED.

During the last few years in the UK, there has been an increased focus on technology in education. STEM subjects, which focus on building technical science, technology, engineering, and maths skills, dominate curriculums and conversations about the future of education. This is a new area for education, one in which it is struggling to keep up with, as technology continually grows and develops at an alarming rate.

It’s also an expensive area of education, so all decisions need to be carefully made by school leaders before parting with their limited funds. In which case, it may be best to look at other examples that are currently being employed to see how best technology can enhance the classroom experience.

Introducing technology needs to be carefully thought out and the practices used to do this should be pedagogically informed. One of the best ways that technology can enhance education is by using it in order to increase student-led, personalised learning.

Lead your own learning

In a time when answers can be found through Google rather than through the teacher, it has never been easier for students to lead their own learning. The Rantakylä Comprehensive School in Mikkeli, Finland, has developed a programme that encourages students to become active agents in their communities and to take ownership of their education. The teacher acts as a facilitator and mentor, stepping back and encouraging the students to lead their own learning.

The project, known as EduRemix, trains teachers how to use technology effectively in the classroom, who then introduce these technologies to the students. In the lessons, students are encouraged and supported to create their own digital content. The students work in small groups to plan and conduct digital projects with a range of digital tools, building on their collaborative skills along with their ability to work independently. Not only do students’ digital skills develop, which are essential for the contemporary workplace, but it also increases their self-confidence and motivation.

For some, technology has a bad reputation, which is only half deserved. Phones, tablets and laptops can be distracting, and are increasingly something that teachers find themselves fighting against for pupils’ attention. However, technology can have positive outcomes in the classroom; teachers simply need to get the balance right and not let it overwhelm the subjects being taught.

Bryan Alexander, a teacher from Vermont in the US, is an advocate of the ‘makerspace’ movement in education, which originated in Germany in the 1990s, before spreading to the USA and around the world: “A casual glance in a makerspace shows people working energetically with analogue physical tools; with yarn, with plastic, with wood. But you also see them casually relying on laptops, smartphones, YouTube videos for instruction, and they film themselves and share it with everybody else. So these really intertwine. Especially for younger generations, the separation is less and less important,” he said.

Accessing education

A fantastic example of these spaces comes in the form of ‘Nooks’ developed by Project DEFY in India. Project DEFY helps to set up the Nooks in remote areas where formal education is hard to access. The Nooks usually contain laptops and other materials such as hammers and saws which the community has to hand. In these spaces, members of the community are able to teach themselves and others by researching how to do something on the internet and then carrying out the tasks themselves. The diverse lessons range from learning vital everyday tasks like using email, to creating jewellery and learning how to program and code. The Nooks allow students to learn skills which will help them to build careers and enhance their prospects in the 21st Century, by using technology to design their own education.

The internet effectively takes on the traditional role of the teacher or the guidebook, a resource of knowledge, which allows young people to lead their own learning. The lessons learned are shared amongst the community, empowering the whole neighbourhood. The project has helped to tackle gender inequality, as women in rural areas were not always able to go to school. It has also brought education to hard to reach areas where teacher absence is high, and the project has even been able to bring education into a refugee settlement in Uganda.

In the UK, we could learn from these examples of how to use technology in the classroom, as well as the huge benefits that personalised and self-led learning gives students. “We are in the grip of two things,” says Sugata Mitra, Professor of educational technology at Newcastle University. “One is history, and the other is exponential change. We are not quite used to dealing with things changing exponentially.”

And yet, if we can trust in our learners to make use of the technology that they are so familiar with, the results can be amazing, as Mitra goes on to say: “Data seems to show that if children work in groups, are unsupervised and have access to the internet, they are able to learn almost anything by themselves.”

Development and innovation in UK schools is somewhat restricted due to the formulaic nature of the curriculum and the pressure teachers are under to produce results in the form of exam grades. However, as technology continues to blend into our daily lives, it is important to realise how this can be best utilised to enhance education practices and engage pupils, which could then in turn get pupils the top grades that the government wants to see. As the opportunities to bring technology into education appear, we need to make sure we use it in order to get students excited about learning so that they can become motivated, self-driven individuals.

HundrED is a non-profit organisation that is researching and finding the most inspiring innovations in global education to share with the world for free.


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