Using technology to Enhance the Classroom Environment

Date:   Wednesday , August 11, 2010

A vibrant education sector is fundamental for developing human capital within countries. With an active and transformative education policy and a supportive infrastructure, the development of a knowledge-based population can apply itself to sustained and equitable growth. For us to elevate the standard and the quality of education imparted today, itís imperative we change our outlook and become more receptive to newer and better ways of imparting education.

Education today has moved out of the realm of the blackboard, classroom and conventional methods of teaching to a more intelligent, digitized and smarter way of imparting knowledge.

Technology today is truly an enabler for a better life and can be effectively put to use to impart better teaching and training.

From no computers and zero visual aids for teaching, many of our schools have come a long way. Most urban schools have computer labs, networked computers and a range of audio-visual aids. Now itís time to take stock of what is happening around us, and how we should equip our schools to be better geared up to impart learning.

Schools today must adapt themselves to an environment which makes teaching more innovative and learning more fun. Incorporating technology into the curriculum at any level can greatly increase the effectiveness of teaching. In order to benefit fully from the range of technology available, its implementation must be all the more democratic and inclusive. The use of computers, software and online resources is common across all subjects and essential to effective learning, from research to the production of written work and multimedia projects.

Opportunities that exist

Technology and content are like double edged swords. While the advantages are immense, they also have a flip side which can hamper learning and growth. With the influx of technology to aid learning what we face today is an information overload. Content is not just in abundance but is also available everywhere. Hence it becomes imperative for educators to apply a filter and sift information which is relevant and useful to students. There are sophisticated tools that not just filter content flowing but also act as a security device to prevent hacking.

So schools need to have network administrators who are clued in on the latest threats, and who can tailor policies for the school to ensure good usage of resources. Even then, it is not possible to see if all ground has been covered. In such a situation it is best to cut down risks. The best option for a school is to opt for a thin client environment. In a thin client setup, a server runs all the applications and content for each student, you only need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and any other device that requires individual usage.

Similarly Interactive whiteboards affect learning in several ways, including raising the level of student engagement in a classroom, motivating students and promoting enthusiasm for learning. Interactive whiteboards support many different learning styles and are used in a variety of learning environments, including those catering to students with hearing and visual impairments.

Research also indicates that notes taken on an interactive whiteboard can play a key role in the student review process, leading to higher levels of student attendance. In addition to the observed positive impacts on student learning, research shows that designing lessons around interactive whiteboards helps educators streamline their preparation, be more efficient in their Information and Communication Technology (ICT) integration and increase their productivity overall.

3D projection: All set to revolutionize the learning experience

Sitting in the classroom, is it possible to walk through a pyramid, know its secrets, before entering the door leading to the tomb of Tutankamen?
Can students walk on the moon and peep into its craters? Can biology classes get more fun with a three-dimensional examination of the human body?

Yes! Multi-media education is waiting to get the third dimension, which can make learning almost a real experience.

One of the biggest challenges in the education system in the country is the high drop-out rates. The education market has been waiting a long time for affordable interactive 3D development projection systems. An immersive, interactive experience using 3D technology is the solution that will end the wait and remove the challenge. Lessons in biology, geography and chemistry are especially believed to have a better impact on children using 3D.

3D projectors as a big new opportunity that will transform the way teaching is being imparted. It will give form and substance to creation and leave nothing to imagination.

For this paradigm shift, we need to educate the education community about the technology, the options, the content availability and the benefits.

While the ideal scenario would be to have one projector for a classroom, India needs to have at least one multi-media room in every school to start with.

Learning cannot be limited to the walls of the classroom. You can make more students part of a lecture or a demo while they sit in their classrooms. Often, when teachers take a day off, the class suffers. Finding a replacement teacher at short notice is not easy. The easiest thing would be to have a teacher from another section of the same class include the class in her lectures.

The most basic classroom setup, which allows instructors to use technology as part of their teaching, is one in which there is a computer, a network connection (either wired or wireless) and a projection system. If you have a networked environment, you can easily plug a next generation intelligent projector to beam content into other classrooms as well. So itís learning as usual for the class, even though the teacher is missing. This could spell tremendous opportunities for the school. Fewer teachers can handle more students. However, you will need more teaching assistants to manage the disparate classrooms. This leaves many teachers with enough time to create more powerful educational content for the school. The school can proceed to have its own digital learning content, which could even be licensed to other schools.

Usage of digital learning content can also raise the quality of teachers, supply e-teaching resources, digital learning and learning support services.
Besides the advantage of optimum usage of resources, digital learning content tends to make learning more interactive and fun.

Best practices

While itís important to talk about what trends will shape the industry, we must take cognizance of the fact that for these trends to become reality there are certain good practices which the education institutions in India must practice.

New technologies have changed teaching and learning in a number of waysófrom graphing calculators to online lesson plans to virtual field trips and simulated dissections, educational technologies can help studentsí access content in new and often exciting ways.

Despite this nearly ubiquitous access to computer technology, there is a significant gap between the presence of technology and its usage in the classroom.

While many teachers still feel uncomfortable using technology in their teaching practice, it is also likely that teachers feel new technologies are unproven in the classroom.

While every school is different, with different needs and resources, there are several factors that facilitate technology implementation and can help inculcate technology into the curriculum as means of imparting better learning.

l Professional development - Every educator has professional development needs. From refresher courses on content areas to intensive training in new technology tools, professional development is a critical component of teaching and learning. It is also is an essential component of any school change effort, but it is particularly useful in the implementation of educational technology and the creation of digital learning environments. Hence a school must make efforts to impart professional learning to the teachers so that they can not only make learning more fun but also grow and learn in their own profession as an educator.

l Leadership - In any school change effort, the role of the school administrator through every stage of implementation is critical. The attitudes and actions of school leaders surrounding new technologies will encourage and support teachers as they engage in learning opportunities and explore new tools. Through their role as school leaders, school administrators can help ensure that the use of technology is prioritized, and that teachers feel comfortable trying new things

l Organization and school structure - Strong school leadership and a strong school culture must co- exist to encourage innovation & change. Schools with successful educational interventions have organizational structures that encourage teacher autonomy as well as frequent collaboration among staff. These structures allow teachers to become responsible for their own learning and also create opportunities for teachers to learn about topics that are valuable to their teaching practice.

l Resources and support - Ultimately, successful school-wide change will not occur without strong resources and support from a variety of sources. While few technology innovations could be implemented without considerable financial resources; money alone will not ensure successful implementation. Bringing about change in the school requires hard work by all involved. This includes human resources in the form of time for planning, professional development, collaborative work, and trying new things. Most importantly, the entire eco system must work in tandem to bring about a cult change and carve a niche for itself.

All this shows how we can build classrooms for the future and use technology not just as an enabler, but also to empower education. As our lives change, as the society reorients itself to new situations, educational support systems will have to evolve to make our schools of today, the Schools of the Future.

The author is Country Head Ė Sales & Marketing, NEC India