Are we truly using technology in the classroom?

Across the region there have been calls for schools and teachers to cater to our increasingly tech-savvy students. Here are five factors affecting the use of technology in the classroom.

With the recent release of  Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examination results, the quality of the education offered in the Caribbean has been garnering wide debate. At the launch of the 2012 CXC results, CXC Registrar, Dr. Didicus Jules, challenged countries to revisit the teaching methods being used:

… the “chalk and talk” mode of teaching is dead and it is time teachers’ start using the tools available to reach their more technologically savvy students… (Source: Demerara Waves)

http://www.caribbeantrakker.com/2012/05/cxc-touts-introduction-of-software-to-arrest-plagiarism/cxc-logo/Dr. Jules’ sentiments are not new. Over the past several years, policymakers, along with others who have some interest in education, have posited similar views, which (in part) would have been the impetus for initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child and the expansion of Internet broadband access to schools. However, although we have had varying degrees of success to date on such projects, there might not be any measurable improvement in student performance, evidenced by the disappointing results at the June 2012 examination sitting. What could be some of the factors that are affecting the use of technology in the classroom? We highlight five.

Do you agree with our five points? Did we miss other important factors? Please share as a comment below.

1. Still too few computers relative to the student population

Although the One Laptop Per Child/One Laptop Per Student projects might have their own challenges (see Are schemes offering laptops to students really effective?), at the very least, they aim to put a computing device in the hand of every child/student, thus providing a means to interface with technology. In areas or countries where such programmes are absent, the ratio of computers to students might still be unduly high, which means

  • demand for use would be also high
  • students might not interacting with such devices consistently
  • teachers may have to be selective about the topics for which they can use computing aids, but more importantly,
  • computers as an integral part of the learning process remains a novel and unrealised concept.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shinyai/

2. Technical expertise and support is often limited

Many schools do not have ready access to the expertise necessary to establish and maintain electronic systems that would allow them to, among other things, share resources, introduce much needed controls, and get optimal use out of the computers and other devices in their care. If they are lucky, someone might have set up the initial network, but its maintenance and evolution to suit the changing needs of the school may not have been factored in. In some cases, those configurations end up being abandoned, if no one is at hand to provide the requisite assistance.

Furthermore, securing repairs, replacements and servicing can be a protracted process. Hence students, teachers, and even schools, could be without proper functioning equipment for weeks or months at a time, which in turn affects student learning.

3. School-wide Internet access may still be a problem

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php?id=10038004Roll out of Internet access to schools is continuing across the region – some countries are more connected than others. However, there is a concern about the actual bandwidth allocated to schools. Is it sufficient to allow every student to be online at the same time and enjoy reasonable performance?

The majority of schools would most likely be paying for Internet access, and some might pay a subsidised rate. Nevertheless, and especially in these tough economic times, there may be a need to balance budget and bandwidth. The result, ultimately, is that a select few areas end up having Internet access – Administration, the staff room and the computer lab. Hence the opportunity to truly integrate technology into the classroom is frequently absent.

4. Comprehensive content development not yet implemented

The preparation of teaching modules to assist teachers in the classroom can be lengthy and expensive.  To varying degrees, teachers rely upon material posted on the Internet – images, video clips, etc. – to supplement their classes on ad hoc basis. Moreover, teaching methods might not necessarily have changed to incorporate and benefit from the full integration of technology-related aids in student learning.

Currently, technology appears to be used extensively to assist with testing and remediation – see websites such as CaribExams and Edufocal. However comprehensive and coherent electronic class- (or teaching-) related content, relevant to the region and curriculum being taught, is not as evident.  Preparation of such material would be expensive even if done per country, but savings could be realised if instead the exercise was implemented regionally, to capitalise on economies of scale and scope.

5. Priorities equated to the lowest common denominator

Finally, it is important to highlight that although schools might have the best intentions for their student regarding their academic performance, the majority of them exist under challenging conditions, which would affect their priorities. For example, many public schools have had to increase their class size, resulting in individual teachers single-handedly managing forty to fifty students, with differing needs and capabilities, in the classroom.

Furthermore, at the school level, although government might provide the basics, many are struggling to find ways of supplementing their income, in order to provide some critical extras. Under such circumstances, the call for greater use of technology in the classroom might appear to be an extravagance that they can ill afford.

Final notes

In light of the above points, although schools and teachers are being criticised for not making greater use of technology in the classroom, it is unlikely that they are being given the resources or support to realise this. While a few exceptions might exist among private schools, most public schools are struggling to ensure that their basic needs are covered. Hence greater participation and direction is needed from Ministries of Education and governments to move us, as individual countries and as a region, from lip service to the technology-enabled classroom.

 

Image credit:  Caribbean Trakkershinyal / flickr;  piyaphantawong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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13 Comments

    • Congrats on the new blog!

      I appreciate your thoughts, and perhaps should offer some more insight on my perspective:

      1. Technology in the classroom, ought not to be construed narrowly – i.e. the classroom only – but also should consider its impact on student life. How can tests administered (albeit some)? Where can classwork and homework be accessed? Where are test results posted? What channels are there for remediation and revision, especially for those who need extra practise? Also, note that most students have a cellphone or even a smartphone, which means that there is the potential for them to be continually connected. In that regard, we might have to revisit our views on connectivity. Is it still a privilege, or should we begin to see it as a right? We in the Caribbean might not immediately have the resources for 100% connectivity, but should it be something to which we should aspire?

      2. With regard to content development, is the content being developed relevant to the region? Does it help students to actually learn a concept, or is the emphasis on testing, once the effort has already been made to teach the concept? The development of such learning (not testing or revision) tools, I gather, is quite expensive, so I would be surprised if these tools are being given away freely. Moreover, note that for some subjects, information ought to customised to the Caribbean, e.g. Geography, History, Social Studies, Literature, which again may raise certain challenges to ensure that students can relate to the topic as the syllabi might require.

      3. Finally, I do agree that having technology in the classroom does not require students to have computers for every single lesson, but the point is that technology cannot be just an ad hoc consideration. It should affect the teaching methods used, and as you noted, it would not be “a one size fits all” structure, but an important supplement the learning process. Further, as indicated in my first point, when computers (or technology generally) is only available to a select few, admin, labs, etc, it is difficult to rationalise their use in a school of say, 1,000 students, when there is only on lab with 25-50 computers (if you’re lucky!), which might be there primarily for students studying IT and business subjects.

      • Hey ya, I am posting twice in one week. Yea!
        1. Agreed and I think that is being addressed not necessarily by educators but by others. I see where two major websites are now available to assist with extra preparation and one on the way. However I think it may just come back down to connectivity and Cost.

        2. Yes, the content I refer to was developed especially for the Caribbean not revision tools but content. This done with the view of assisting teachers to present the content.

        3. What I found is that schools (Major Secondary) had their ICT subject labs, Math, Business and then they had a room equipped that is not assigned to a particular subject but may be booked by teacher of other subject for use. This setting is not widespread but a good blue print to follow. I found this particular interesting because a similar system exist here only that all subjects (including ICT) in some cases need to book the labs for use.

        I noticed that one of the schools being praised for doing well in the recent CSEC and CAPE examinations was one such school that followed that blueprint.

        • Thanks Moni.

          One of the key challenges the school systems tend to face, and perhaps more so in the Caribbean, is that some schools are much better resourced than the majority of schools. Hence “major schools’, “traditional schools”, “private schools”, etc., that have strong alumni and PTA bodies, etc, and perhaps are able to fund projects independent of government support, are able to provide better facilities for their students, which would reflect in their performance.

          hence there are number of schools, and consequently students, that are falling through those cracks…

  • Excellent article Michelle.

    Your five points go straight to the heart of the problems and possible solutions we face in the classroom generally.
    In my experience, content developed by regional teachers and used with the technology, are largely relevant to the specific syllabus being pursued.
    Having recently completed a course in Technology Integration (in the classroom), I can confidently say that there are tons of free (online) tools available for classroom use anywhere in the world. Eg. wikis, podcasts. blogging, digital story telling, educational management tools etc. The fantastic thing about this too is that computers are not the only ‘output devices’ needed to use these tools.There are projectors, smart boards (and many others given to schools through the local e-learning initiative). Smart phones have a high penetration rate in Jamaica and have the capability to facilitate use and engagement in the teaching/learning environment as well. Though difficult to monitor, we need to explore this as a viable outlet. That way we can broaden the reach from a few to many more students.

  • All of your comments are so true and it seems that at the root is the varying perceptions of how it should work and financing. If we could all agree that it is urgent and critical for this to be implemented in schools because the digital take over is eminent and already in play, then maybe we could justify spending what it would take to equip each child with a laptop or some device to access the internet, write, draw and manipulate data. Some are of the view that children would lose or destroy expensive equipment but for most it would be a cherished possession that is being enjoyed and learning would come spontaneously. The use of online tutorials could be valuable in schools with limited resources for training and partnering with human resources in the community could identify skills needed for maintenance and upgrade. As children teach parents, entire communities begin to explored and realize the potential of ICT. Who will foot the bill? Parents will pay if affordable systems are in place.

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