ICT is an ever present part of today’s learner’s life at school and beyond. The students today are using technology for learning, working, innovating, creating, responding, problem-solving, problem-posing, socializing and playing. It is a natural part of their ecosystem and we must acknowledge that young people are now an online population. Students of today are raised in a connected world and are immersed in wired technologies. The possibilities allowing one to participate in educational exchanges and social life taking place anywhere in the world are pervasive and engaging. Across the globe, educators are constantly finding innovative ways to redesign curriculum, looking for opportunities to provide these learners with relevant and contemporary experiences that allow them to successfully engage with technology. Some of the ways the teachers are using technology include research for content, searching for sample lesson plans, organizing group and collaborative work between students customised support to specific students, development of spread sheets and graphics with the students, playing educational games, flipping classrooms. The aim is to equip these learners with skills for an increasingly connected and fast moving world.
The big challenge for schools and educators is to embrace this tidal wave and engage with use of technology in a way which makes the learning journey constructive and unique for today’s learner. While every school is different, with different needs and resources, there are several key factors that facilitate successful technology implementation in schools.
School leadership is strongly associated with pedagogical use of technology in schools. To be a leader of technology requires a willingness to learn, flexibility and the capacity to accept change as a constant factor. Since technology changes continuously, leaders of technology must be lifelong learners and explorers and to some extent risk takers. Besides establishing a vision and goals for technology in the school the leadership needs to model the use of technology and facilitate necessary infrastructure along with a positive and encouraging working environment. A leader who engages in learning and change alongside teachers (e.g., using new technologies, attending conferences and workshops, and keeping up with current research) will be successful in developing a culture of innovation and collaboration with and through technology. The leader should be able to lead and support many teams while contributing to an overall goal. Taking a whole school approach to the integration of ICT in teaching and learning is important when changing some established systems and structures within the school such as identifying new roles that are in harmony with curriculum development and technology changes. Showcasing examples of technology use in classrooms during staff meeting, prominently displaying photos that feature student and classroom use of technology send a message to the school community that technology is a vibrant part of the school.
School infrastructure development and implementation should be considered in conjunction with, and in response to, the needs of the school learning environment. A technology infrastructure is composed of equipment, communication lines, and software that support education technology in a school. A strong technology infrastructure fosters educational growth and innovation using technology. The available infrastructure involves a dizzying array of options: a large number of computers connected by a network, servers loaded with various multiuser software applications, and expanses of cabling, as well as traffic-directing hardware elements such as hubs, switches and bridges. In addition, there are Internet service provider (ISP) connections and wireless technologies. Leaders often are forced to make choices and a lot depends on appropriate strategic planning. Complementary measures and policies such as adapting teaching curricula to e-learning and providing interactive learning software are indispensable along with the infrastructure.
Technology alone cannot build 21st century skills. Technology is an accelerator, but does not enable change alone. The most important resources in the school are the human resources and professional development is essential to enhancing their skills.
Effective and successful professional development does not just happen; it requires careful planning and goal setting. Teachers are at various stages of technology use and “readiness to learn” about technology. For some the implementation of technology will be swift and painless. For others the process will be slow and incremental. These differences require an approach to change and professional development that acknowledges these differences.
Schools should begin by determining the needs of their students and staff, gathering this information through planning meetings, teacher surveys, and collection of student data. Using this data, schools need to set clear goals and purposes for their professional development program. Professional development should focus on content and strategies that help students learn best. Schools should continue to collect data through all phases of professional development activities to ensure that the activities are linked to high standards and current curriculum, and are meeting desired goals.
From their technology budget organisations should spend a higher per cent on the “human infrastructure” to support on-going training and technical assistance. Capital investment alone will not be effective unless the fundamentals of the learning process itself are changed.
Professional development should on-going. The teaching profession is constantly changing, so it is important for teachers to be continuous learners. Effective professional development should occur throughout the school year, not just during one-shot workshops or summer sessions. Teachers must have frequent opportunities for in-depth and active learning that is authentic and useful in their daily practice. In order to ensure implementation of new strategies, teachers need to have ample time to practice in their own classrooms. Special ‘Tech Think Tanks’, designated technology in service training days, special interest groups identifying ‘Teach Savvy Teachers’ as mentors are some key ways to support staff in professional development. Time should be given to these groups to meet and share their learning throughout the year. This will create dynamic in-house personal learning communities for technology integration. Teachers need to be able to create blended learning classrooms, join global learning communities, discover and share valuable resources.
The leadership should be aware that teachers are inundated with new initiatives every year; new ideas come and go and are rarely sustainable (Zorfass, 2001). To avoid “initiative fatigue,” schools must focus not only on introducing new technology, but also on implementing and scaling up new technologies.
Investing the right amount in the right places allows schools to reap educational benefits. Teachers’ confidence in technology leads to experimentation and innovation.
Teaching digital citizenship
Being a 21st century citizen means that one is collaborating and communicating with people you meet face to face and also those that one encounters in digital world. This places immense responsibility on the digital citizen to make informed and ethical choices while acting with integrity and honesty. In a globally connected digital world, learners are empowered to be responsible for their actions, to value others’ rights and to practise safe and legal behaviours. There is a strong need for schools to formally teach new skills – information literacy and visual literacy. Students and teachers need to be taught about online etiquette, online safety and the hazards of cyber-bullying until it becomes a natural and intrinsic process engrained in the learners. It is common knowledge that the younger generation is far ahead of teachers in the use of technology but they still need to learn and be taught to successfully and safely navigate the digital world. Intellectual property rights, and plagiarism are elements student need to be made aware of and schools should create an Acceptable User Policy which should be shared with students and parents. Appropriate attitudes and behaviours concerning the use of ICT also need to be modelled within the school community.
For technology to contribute positively to students’ learning experiences, it is important to put together all the many pieces touched above: policies, long-term planning, clear goals, concrete support measures, coordinating the curriculum, providing on-going support and appropriate infrastructure and engaging in appropriate professional development. By putting these pieces in place technology can play a significant role in contributing to positive, productive learning experiences for all students and teachers. The technologies of tomorrow are already making headway into education and are being tested in select classrooms today, laying the seeds for the future of how students could learn. Some of these are Virtual Reality, 3D printing, Wearable Technology, Robotic Toys, Game Based Learning and Open Source learning models. As it is said that the only constant is change but the pace of change keeps accelerating when it comes to technology. Most of us in education have to realise these winds of change and as new ways and new technology keeps emerging, learning and adapting is essential.
Finally it is important to note that technology use may enhance education, but cannot replace the people, policies and mission of a learning environment.