The concept of modern learning environment is transforming with serious attempts by schools authorities to align the physical space with modern pedagogical philosophy.
This is also mainly due to the push to support 21st century learning opportunities.
Today’s classrooms embrace technology in all aspects of learning and this has helped teachers to better engage with students and facilitate a combination of independent, small-group and whole class learning which is regarded critical to student success.
We at EdTechReview wanted to know what teachers think of edtech and technology enabled pedagogy in and out. So we reached out to Ms. Sanchita Ghosh, the Head of the Department at Sanskriti School, New Delhi to talk to her and know her perspective on edtech and the whole concept of including technology in education today.
The transcript of the interview is given below.
1. How has technology opened avenues to better teaching and student learning at Sanskriti School?
EdTech is a dynamic tool which can be used to leverage learning opportunities that were hitherto unavailable to both teachers and students. It opens up new avenues for teaching old concepts and discovering new horizons of learning for the students. In Sanskriti School teachers are creatively using technology to create learning experiences that are exciting and engaging for students.
To give you an example, in the past, Geography classes involved the use of wall maps as a visual aid to display landforms. Today, Google Earth or Google Maps allow students to view topography and other geographical features in 3D. These applications can be used to create layered maps to show the relationship between ocean currents and air currents; rainfall vegetation and crops; and topography and human adaptations, to just name a few.
To take an example from literature class, students may attempt to retrace the steps of the main characters in the novel like Homer's Iliad or Odyssey by trying to the place the journey of the protagonists of these stories using Google Tour Builder.
EdTech has really revolutionised how our students work on collaborative projects. In Sanskriti School we use the Google Suite of Apps to enable students to collaborate in real time, 24x7. It could be simple research paper, written using Google Docs, or interactive presentations using Google Slides. EdTech has enabled students unleash their imagination and create original content like documentaries on lesser known monuments of Delhi, or a traditional craft.
Technology has also enabled teachers to organise and analyse student data using Google Sheets. They have been able to differentiate learning to address the wide range of students needs within the classroom. Teachers are able to create lesson modules that students can attempt at their own pace, using Google Forms.
Besides Google Apps our teachers also use tools like EdPuzzle to create interactive videos to fully engage student participation, rather than passive watching of videos.
Flipped Classroom and Blended Learning opportunities enabled by technology have opened up more meaningful conversations between teachers and students. Teachers are now able to drive discussions which encourage critical thinking among students, give personalised attention to those who need it and offer greater challenges to gifted students. Teachers are now able to spend more time teaching and coaching and less time managing systems and doing mundane repetitive things.
2. Do the teachers in your school feel stressed or does it excite them to practice technology enabled pedagogy? Do you see the students enjoying the mix of traditional and technology enabled learning?
Any change brings some stress. However, not all stress is negative. The climate in Sanskriti School enables us to channel this stress towards a more positive outcome. Training opportunities are presented on a regular basis, both within and outside school, to update teachers on different EdTech tools available and how they can be integrated in teaching and subject pedagogies. Once teachers are empowered, stress is replaced by excitement to try out new technologies and look at opportunities for tech-integration in the classroom. The school leadership largely allows and encourages teachers to choose their own EdTech paths and self-driven learning.
The biggest gainers of this approach are our students. We have definitely experienced greater student engagement. There is a greater ownership of learning when teachers are using the tools which are part of the students’ everyday lives. Use of technology also addresses the different learning styles of students and the multiple intelligences they use to learn and understand new concepts.
To give a small example, we have a number of students with disabilities which make it difficult for them to write. They are provided with scribes during examinations. But most do not have scribes to help do their homework. So instead of writing, they may be given assignments which can be submitted as a voice or video files. I get a fair number of such students in my History classes of Grades 11 and 12 where it is mandatory for students to produce essay-type answers. In such cases, I encourage them to use the voice-typing feature in Google Docs to submit their written assignments. This also gives them practice to dictate answers to scribes during examinations.
Integration of technology in education has given students different ways to demonstrate their learning. When even traditional tasks can be done in new ways, it excites the students and leads to more engagement.
3. What kind of training do you offer to teachers in your school to enhance their technology skills and start using various technologies in pedagogy?
Teacher training is taken very seriously in Sanskriti School. We have a Professional Development In-Charge who tracks different workshops and conferences available for the faculty. The process of selection is democratic, where teachers themselves choose their own learning paths. Teachers, on their own, are also on the lookout for different learning opportunities and the school supports them when they want to attend workshops outside school.
We also have an in-house team of technology trainers. The trainers do not come from a technical background. I teach History and my two partners are Economics and Mathematics teachers, respectively. We call ourselves Techno@Heart. We conduct regular ‘big-group’ workshops on a regular basis introducing them to new tools or familiarizing them with advanced features of tools they are already familiar with. We also engage in one-on-one sessions with teachers to hand-hold them and help them work on their specific subject and pedagogical concerns.
We also encourage the sharing of ‘Best Practices in EdTech’, where teachers and invited to share their usage and experience of technology integration. This process not only offers recognition to those teachers who adopt and adapt new tools to galvanize learning in their classrooms, it also helps create role models for other teachers. We try to keep things real and do-able for the teachers to build more confidence and comfort with the fast changing EdTech scene.
4. Can edtech play a potential role in humanities studies just as it is seen in STEM learning?
In its current form, there seems to be an underlying assumption that STEM and Humanities subjects are in a vertical hierarchy. Both subject groups are equally important for human development. It is the humanities subjects which give a social context to STEM innovations. For example engineers are building Metro Rail Systems in Delhi NCR and other cities, but it will be the Social Scientists who will help determine how many and at what distance stations will be placed after studying the demographics of the area being covered by the Metro lines.
And education is education. EdTech is already disrupting the classrooms. If a classroom is able to set up a Skype call or Hangout with an historian or an author (synchronous), that is disruption. Use of AR/VR for a virtual visit to a historical or geological site is disruption. My students and I can travel around the world without visa issues and lost baggage troubles….. Disruption. The very act of students getting involved in filmmaking or podcasting is disruption. Using tools like FlipGrid, Padlet and social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (asynchronous) to connect classrooms from across the world to study a language like Spanish or French or Japanese, is disruption. Similar approach can be used to design an activity for students to understand how traditionally non-English speaking communities are learning and using English in their day to day lives. This is also disruption!
Educational disruption is about encouraging students to learn and think beyond the prescribed texts. It is enabling them to identify problems and finding innovative ways to solve them. The point is to move away from traditional learning methods which are no longer preparing students or skilling them for the future.
At this point, if I ask my students this very same question, they will answer in a resounding YES!! The questions we need to ask are: Do we view disruption as something positive and something to be desired? How are we bringing this disruption to the classroom? How are we empowering and equipping both teachers and students to embrace educational disruption?
5. What challenges do you face in integrating technology in teaching?
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5. What challenges do you face in integrating technology in teaching?
Tech integration in education is as exciting as it challenging. In my experience as a classroom teacher and and EdTech trainer I look at the following as challenges which we are faced with:
- Fear of failure: We have a cultural fear of failure. “The guru cannot be or better not be wrong.” Teachers are afraid that they may get stuck while in class with a technical glitch. They worry about losing class control if things don’t go according to plan or students know more about the technology than them. They fear a loss of respect.
- Curation of EdTech tools: This challenge is about who decides what EdTech is to be deployed in the classroom. Often it is the school leadership which makes the decision. The issue with that is the it assumes a one-size fits all approach. This forces teachers to use tech that does not address their subject, pedagogical or classroom needs. This results in resistance towards tech integration in general.
- Who pays for it: EdTech is not always cheap. So who pays? School or Teachers?
- Constant Training: Technology is getting updated with increasing frequency. Often teachers find it difficult to keep up. By the time they are comfortable using a certain application, it gets updated or it gets replaced by another. So regular opportunities for training is important to keep the teachers updated. School schedules are tight and it is sometimes difficult to mark out time at regular intervals for such workshops.
- Personalizing Learning for Students: Time or rather the lack of it can impact the ability of teachers to create modules conducive to personalised learning. Often the teachers may not have the right tools to facilitate the same. Many a times, the student or the parents may challenge a teacher’s efforts to personalise learning, either over or underestimating a student’s pace of learning.
- Notion that tech is only meant for assessment: Most EdTech tools brand themselves as great tools for assessment. Some take it a step further to suggest diagnostic steps that can be taken post assessment. This prevents both, the tech provider and the teachers to consider the fact the EdTech tools are great at introducing new concepts or encouraging the process of learning of that new concept.
- It is not meant for all subjects: Many feel that EdTech is effective in teaching only STEM subjects. I have often heard teachers say that there are no tech tools to teach Indian History, for example. This is a misunderstanding. Sure I cannot use a 3D image of the human anatomy to teach ancient Indian History, but I can use Google Street View to virtually visit the Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh. FlipGrid can be used to display Spanish or French (or any other foreign language) speaking skills of students. Instagram can be harnessed to display a student’s English writing skills. Twitter is a great instrument to train students the value of brevity in communication.
6. Any message that you wish to share with other teachers related to impact of technology on teaching practices.
Technology is not a substitute for a teacher. But a tech empowered teacher can definitely supplant someone who is not upgrading his/her skills. There is no right technology. There is only the right teacher. We know that good teachers can make anything work for them. They can use any situation as teachable moment. For example, if your tech supported lesson fails to take off (due to tech or no-tech reasons) how are you setting an example for the students? Are you patient? Are you willing to take the help of your students (you can learn from anyone)? Are you flexible enough to quickly adjust to situations where everything is not under your control?
Technology will not replace the teacher. In fact the presence of such powerful technology makes the role of the teacher even more critical. It becomes even more necessary to have the teachers guide students about constructive use of these tools, become their conscience keepers, help students stay safe online, guide students to gauge and critically analyse content before they accept anything as correct and accurate.
We are soon reaching critical mass where education cannot be thought of without access to technology. If you are using a smartphone, if you are connected to the internet, if you are on WhatsApp, if you have a Facebook account, you are a technologically empowered teacher. You can bring about a transformation in your classroom. You students will want to be in your class. They will ask each other, “What’s going to happen today?’’
So what’s happening in your class today?