Technology in schools has the potential to be the greatest of equalisers. Students within individual schools and across the country, or even world could be placed on a level playing field and given access to the same learning opportunities. Of course this is a little idealistic given the current economic climate and the seemingly never-ending cost of keeping the technology in schools up to date.
Technology should be available to every student in this country, and by technology I mean more specifically that they should all have access to a mobile, internet-connected device. Achieving this ideal (and the only hurdle one must overcome to do so is financial) would in turn, lead to the fulfilment of another, far more significant educational goal: a system in which every student has the opportunity to access more or less the entire sum of human knowledge and the people who are contributing to creating this knowledge.
Technology in the hands of our students means that the classroom walls become almost theoretical; no longer would each room need to contain them and their learning, they would have access to everything and everyone that could possibly help them along in their learning journey.
The internet can make every student and every school international like never before. How this manifests itself is limited only by what students and teachers are willing to invest in terms of time; the tools with which we can connect to the rest of the world are there, ready to be used.
What you can do is enormously varied. You could start with a beautiful offering like www.panoramas.dk, which offers you 3D tours of some of the world’s most iconic building s and locations ranging from the Sacre Coeur in Paris, to the surface of the moon. Students are offered an immersive experience that helps them understand the realities of a place that you want them to research or understand.
A more overtly obvious technology to utilise would be Skype. Skype can connect your classroom with any other. It can connect you to individuals, experts or colleagues that can offer insight to your students without them having to leave their own workplace. You could take the opportunity to make connections with schools from around the world and benefit from an exciting mutual relationship. You could ask American students how they’re taught about The Great Gatsby or slavery or civil rights, you could ask South African students what it’s like to live day to day, post-apartheid. These first-hand cultural experiences and reflections could be invaluable to your students, and more importantly it helps reinforce the idea of global citizenship.
Never before has a generation been so connected and so mobile. I think that we have a responsibility to educate them in how to make these connections in a responsible, thoughtful and productive way.
Social media connects us to people that we may never meet and yet lasting bonds and friendships can be forged. Twitter allows us constant snapshots of millions of people, be they celebrities, academics, experts or simply people like us. Twitter is a great tool for finding people and resources that could never have been accessed 20 years ago.
It is now possible to ‘attend’ Harvard lectures without ever leaving the UK. iTunesU is an incredible resource that allows access to some of the greatest minds in the world, for free. Students no longer need to learn things second hand, they can go straight to the expert, leaving classroom teachers more time to prepare follow-up material or embellish this learning in different ways. Similarly, the internet also allows you a whole new world of peer-assessment. As you or your student may look and listen to the wise words of others, you can become those wise words in a number of different formats. YouTube for example, lets your students voice an opinion or an idea to the rest of the world, and it’s just possible, that if they get it right, the rest of the world might respond. This kind of global feedback is utterly incredible and frankly inspiring, and the power of something like this as a learning tool cannot be underestimated.
Technology also makes the things we do already, easier. Tools like Google Docs means that writing a collaborative essay no longer has to be awkward and messy, true, simultaneous collaboration can happen and lead to some fascinating results. This is a great tool for a homework for example, where group activities tend to fall apart. But, what if you used the same programme to allow students to write collaboratively with someone on the other side of the world? How much bigger would the stakes seem for your students? How much more engaging and exciting would it seem for everyone involved. How much more likely would they be to never forget that piece of work?
Technology, used well can be inspiring. Technology used well can break down boundaries.