Teaching Net Natives

By Rozana Sani, Life & Times section, New Straits Times, Published 7 January 2013

YOU can’t hoodwink children these days. With their hands-on skills on tech gadgets, they are usually in the know about what’s going on in the world.

The Internet is part of their lives. They watch the latest top music acts on YouTube, get the latest buzz on social media and listen to thought gurus via online platforms like TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) where Bill Clinton and Al Gore have shared their ideas and opinions.

With so much exposure through the media and technology, many children are beginning to find sitting in class and listening to the teacher a bore. What then can teachers do to make school as interesting as surfing on the Net?

For Arlene Theresa Corrigan, the Cambridge A-Levels principal at Taylor’s College in Subang Jaya, Selangor, the answer is to transform teachers.

“Today’s students who have ‘grown up digital’ will not consider an old-fashioned lecturer as an expert. They will also not accept books and resources that are quickly being replaced by more current information so easily accessible in the digital age. Teachers need to enter the digital age in meaningful ways that maximise learning,” she says.

Acknowledging that it is indeed a challenge to keep up with the Internet generation, Corrigan says the onus is on teachers to make teaching and learning effective and interesting.

“Teachers will make the difference here. Teacher training will need to focus on how to embed collaborative and interactive learning into their daily practice. This, of course, implies that they will need to be technologically savvy so that they can facilitate opportunities for students to learn in ways that are meaningful to them.

“Anyone who has children knows how natural the digital environment is to them and it makes sense that they are allowed to learn in ways that are natural to them. This implies that the role of the teacher in the classroom has changed. We are no longer teaching content but we are responsible for promoting thinking — a much more challenging task,” she adds.

Teachers, need to learn to give voice to students and create student-centred environments. “The interactions and collaborations teachers facilitate will rely heavily on digital devices.”

Corrigan says 2013 is set to be a year of adjustments where ICT in the classroom is concerned.

“I expect to walk by classrooms and see students working in groups, having meaningful conversations, sharing presentations using iPads, immersed and engaged in learning. The teacher won’t be at the front of the class in an old-fashioned lecture but moving around and having one-on-one conversations with students, giving them a voice and a sense of responsibility for their own learning.”

Tech gadgets in the classroom should no longer be a novelty.

“Instead, it will be so natural that we may not even notice the devices. Eventually, it will be as natural as the mainstay tools of the past — pens, paper and textbooks,” she says.Corrigan also highlights the fact that the current generation, which has been labelled many monikers, should be seen in a more positive light.

“This generation has been referred to as the global generation because of their increased awareness of the plights people face all over the world.

“Their digital devices keep them informed and connected to peers all over the world and they have developed a global attitude as a result. They love this planet. They are empathetic to those less fortunate. They want to solve the problems of the world such as climate change issues, diminishing water supply and terrorism, so that they can make this world a better place. They are unselfish in this regard. What enviable qualities they have!”

They also think differently than generations of children before them, Corrigan says.

“They are more analytical, culturally aware and independent. This too is likely because of the interactions they have with information and people all over the world. They can’t be taught in the same ways that generations before them have been taught and they know it. They will drive the changes that we need to make in our teaching. Teachers will need to be as connected as they are and will come to rely more on ICT.”

On what sort of training teachers need, she recommends job embedded training which she had experienced in her stint in Ontario, Canada.

“Job embedded training for teachers is effective in changing practice and certainly more effective than one-day events that are typically conducted to meet the required number of hours for professional development. Training that allows teachers to be collaborative, examine student work and reflect on teaching strategies together can effect the changes in teaching practices that are required to be able to offer a student-centred environment and maximise the use of ICT.”

Read more: Career: Teaching Net natives - Tech - New Straits Times