Saturday, 15 October 2011 03:08

 By Fazeena Saleem,

Huda N V and CHRIS PANGANIBAN

 

Conventional concepts and methods of education are changing fast with the development of new technologies based on computers and the Internet.

Today, technology is helping teachers to expand beyond linear, text-based learning and to engage students who learn best in other ways. Its role in schools has evolved from a contained “computer class” into a versatile learning tool that could change how we demonstrate concepts, assign projects and assess progress.

Schools and colleges in many countries have started experiments with e-textbooks and e-school bags that are expected to thoroughly transform the educational environment. And Qatar is in the forefront of such initiatives, with at least one Independent school already introducing iPads in classrooms.

The sight of children carrying heavy school bags may soon become a thing of the past, with the rapid changes taking place in information and communication technology all over the world.  Technology has definitely reached the schools, but experiments and research meant to review the use of technology in classrooms have had mixed results all over the world.

Educators and parents are divided over whether initiatives to allow technology and alternative learning devices instead of a usual textbook can make a difference academically.

Globally, tablets, mainly iPads, and other electronic devices are increasingly introduced as alternative learning tools, both in higher education and in K-12.   


Technology in the classroom

There are various types of technologies currently used in traditional classrooms. Having a computer in the classroom is an asset for any teacher, as it enables them to demonstrate new lessons, present new material, illustrate how to use new programmes, and show new Websites.

These days, many of the classes have their own Websites, displaying student work.

Through these, teachers can post homework assignments, student work, trivia games, and so much more. Blogs on these sites allow for students to maintain a running dialogue, such as a journal, thoughts, ideas, and assignments that also provide for student comment and reflection.

Though most of the schools ban the use of mobile phones, smart-phones can be used to enhance the experience in the classroom by providing the possibility for professors to get feedback.

An interactive whiteboard that provides touch control of computer applications enhances the experience in the classroom by showing anything that can be on a computer screen.

This not only aids in visual learning, but it is interactive so the students can draw, write, or manipulate images on the interactive whiteboard.

Also available these days are streamed video Websites that can be utilised to enhance a classroom lesson. Added to this, the field of educational games and serious games has been growing significantly over the past few years.

Digital games are being provided as tools for the classroom and have a lot of positive feedback including higher motivation for students.

Podcasting is a relatively new invention that allows anybody to publish files on the Internet where individuals can subscribe and receive new files from people by a subscription.

The primary benefit of podcasting for educators is that it enables teachers to reach students through a medium that is both “cool” and a part of their daily lives.

Podcasting can help sharpen students’ vocabulary, writing, editing, public speaking, and presentation skills. Students will also learn skills that will be valuable in the working world, such as communication, time management, and problem-solving.


e-books, a digital textbook that is merely a PDF on a tablet that students can carry around, also hold an unimaginable potential for innovating education, though as some schools have already discovered, not all of that potential has been realised yet.


ICT strategy for schools

Falling in line, Qatar, in its National Development Strategy (NDS) 2011-2016, has set major goals to be achieved in enhancing the use of Information and communication technology (ICT) in schools.

It aims to develop and implement an ICT strategy in schools that can help improve learning outcomes and increase effectiveness in administrative functions. The country will develop an integrated ICT strategy for all education sectors in Qatar based on international ICT best practices to improve management, administrative processes, learning environments, teaching methods and education outcomes.

Qatar’s K–12 institutions are comparatively well equipped with ICT infrastructure, due to large recent investments, and many students enjoy access to school computers comparable to that in European countries, revels the NDS.  Under the Education for a New Era reform, many teachers received intensive training on integrating ICT into teaching and learning.

A continuing training programme for teachers is likely required for students to fully benefit from ICT-supported learning. Also, no integrated strategy links ICT use in K–12 education with higher education and technical education and vocational training.

A report on Qatar National ICT Plan 2015 published by ictQatar, however, said that Supreme Education Council has outlined e-Education initiatives including the deployment of advanced learning management systems that let students, teachers, administrators and parents share information and communicate online and the creation of national e-library for digitized books and other digital learning resources.

The same initiative also aims to develop IT standards and frameworks that will be applied to schools across Qatar, including the deployment of IT in new schools, ICT training and professional development for educators and increased usage of government network to enhance information sharing between schools.

For its part, IctQatar will focus on two e-Education initiatives which are e-Maturity assessment and e-Content for education.

The e-Maturity diagnostic and self assessment tool measures the extent to which ICT is integrated and adopted starting with 26 public and private schools inits pilot project and at the same time ictQatar will develop a curriculum based digital content for the K-12 public schools, a broad-based strategy available for all educational purposes.

IctQatar has made significant progress in the integration of ICT into the country’s education system based on Qatar’s ICT Landscape 2011 report which showed that 98 percent of primary and secondary schools have Internet access, 93 percent have broadband access and almost 100 percent of teachers and students in the universities and 96 percent of school students have access to PCs for educational purposes.


iPad in School

Setting an example the Zainab Preparatory Independent School for Girls, since last year, has been using iPads as an alternative learning device for students. The school has already distributed iPads to each student- a replacement for school bag.   

Mariam Al Awadi, operator and school principal, says they adopted this new learning system to develop the school’s education programme to cope up with the inevitable trends in technology.

iPads will improve the academic performance of students since they have already installed the entire school curriculum in the tablet device, she says.

Importantly the new learning system will solve the problems of carrying heavy school bags and at the same time contribute to protect the environment since studying and learning inside the classrooms were already paperless, argues Al Awadi.

However the school has installed a password to prevent students from browsing the Internet sites that are not related to their studies.


Benefits and criticisms

The obvious advantages of iPads and other electronic learning tools over textbooks are that they are friendlier to the environment and allow students to access material more readily.  But while introducing the new technology there are many other issues to be taken into consideration when a traditional practice gets replaced by new method.

Educational technology is intended to improve education over what it would be without technology. Many experts in innovation technology in education compare education without technology to the medical profession without technology.

According to many, it provides easy-to-access course material, as instructors can post information on a website and students can study at a time and location they prefer and can obtain the study material very quickly. This also helps a lot in Global Education initiatives, where students and teacher are scattered in remotest parts of the world and thus enabling wide participation in learning. Computer-based instruction can give instant feedback to students and explain correct answers. Moreover, a computer is patient and non-judgmental, which can give the student motivation to continue learning. Different types of educational software are designed and developed to help children or teenagers to learn specific subjects.

Although technology in the classroom does have many benefits, there are clear drawbacks as lack of proper training, limited access to relevant technology, and the extra time required for many implementation of technology, are some of the common ones.  

“We cannot expect that introducing at schools some hardware alone will transform school practices, such as the way we read textbooks. We also need the publishers of textbooks to design material that will take advantage of the capabilities of the tool, the software developers to design applications that will support real activities  and finally we need the educators to begin redesigning curricula which include the tools as an integral part of the classroom experience,” said Dr Andreas Karatsolis, Assistant Teaching Professor of English and  Associate Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

With a real synergy between educators, publishers and developers the potential of radically transforming teaching and learning can be accomplished. Besides the transformation of the activities of reading, writing, researching and even problem-solving, it might even have the opportunity to support true communities of learning in the classrooms. On the other hand, if   such a synergy cannot be achieved, the technology will become source of distraction in the classroom, and potentially a tool to increase social isolation.

Dr Karatsolis further said, “Unfortunately, every time a new technology is introduced to the market, the educational community seems to be eager to get it to the hands of students without necessarily having solid data from educational studies regarding its effectiveness.”

“To understand the effects of a one-to-one iPad model, we need well designed, long-term studies of use and comparisons to other comparable groups which use other tools. This is rarely the case, and we resort to student self-reporting about their experience with the tools, which is in many cases positive because of the novelty or peer pressure. So we can’t safely answer the question of whether the iPad or any other such tool is successful based on student satisfaction alone, and so far this is the data we have,” said Dr Karatsolis.

However, schools are quite conservative about introducing advanced electronic devices as iPads as learning tools due to different reasons including their policies. Especially the expatriate schools in Doha are keener in educating their students in information technology within limitations. The schools prefer to continue the traditional text books and allow children to learn the information technology as an added skill.

“Introducing iPads as alternative learning device is not a good idea. We have a policy not even to allow mobile phones and other devices. There is also a high possibility of children misusing it if teachers are not able to monitor,” said Dr Corina Villanuv, Student Activities and Research Coordinator, Philippine School in Doha.

Having a major concern about their children’s education parents too have mixed opinion about introducing devices like iPads in schools. They argue the system is not ready to adapt to it yet. Though, in the long term it will definitely replace text books as in the case of experiments being done in many countries. However the system of education in Middle East still stresses on the traditional approach. The downside to the iPad would be that kids could be video chatting with friends while the teacher thinks they are reading a lesson, parents argue.

“I believe a tablet can never replace books. Too much dependence on electronics is not good. It should be used as an instrument but not as an end in itself. In the long run it will impair the habit of reading among kids. Just the way a calculator can not produce good mathematicians in the similar way ipads will never produce erudite individuals,” said a father of two high school students.

The effective uses of the electronic devices in the classroom will multiply as educators adapt the new technology and find ways to innovate their teaching methods accordingly. However, future in education, the ultimate educational use of the technology will depend mainly on how students respond to it.

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