Today’s school children and students are the first generation of true ‘digital natives’ – also known as ‘millennials’ - who have grown up with technology.
Spending much of their free time online messaging friends and playing games, this generation is completely at home in front of a screen. So it’s vital that as teachers we capitalise on this love of technology and use it to reach out to them on their terms. The technology helps to take the fear out of learning because it is a platform with which they already feel at ease. They are more likely to be interested in learning if they can use their phones, computers and iPads in school.
Integrating technology into the classroom is particularly useful in addressing the needs of disengaged pupils. Working with children to overcome their barriers to learning and development involves trying all sorts of different approaches to teaching. A kinaesthetic style is often most successful for disengaged learners who don’t like listening to or following orders, but who learn best when doing something physical or practical – such as on a computer.
Technology also allows better opportunities for interaction between classmates by encouraging them to collaborate. Fun ideas to try include using QR codes on wall displays or worksheets which students can scan into their smartphones and then get directed to further media such as videos relating to the subject they are studying.
Augmented reality (AR) takes this a stage further. Using a camera device, this technology allows students to superimpose objects onto the screen (as Pokémon GO does) so that for example, the Eiffel tower can appear on the screen of a student reading about its origin. This can also be used as a teaching tool, where a webcam reads a card held by the teacher and the display on the card changes – so that for example, an image of Planet Earth can then be manipulated into the different elements of crust, mantle etc.
Following on from this, the current ‘big thing’ is virtual reality (VR) – imagine the excitement of students who can put on glasses which then ‘transport’ them inside a cell during their biology lesson, rather than just drawing and labelling a picture!
Gamification is another important area. This concept combines the fun and most enjoyable aspects of gaming with instruction, practice and feedback to encourage learners to become more engaged in the learning process. Gamification is about more than making lessons “fun” – though this is a common perception. It’s more accurate to say that gamification is about engagement. It works largely by providing instant feedback – quickly rewarding even the smallest level of progress.
At a less complicated level, phone apps are also coming into their own as students download apps which will help them to learn and to revise. Because the information is on a portable device, students can work anywhere, anytime, including when they are on the go, so that they can even put their commuting time to good use.
Many such apps are free or low-cost, so using technology doesn’t always need to involve expense. Just look at YouTube which has masses of free content which can be used to capture students’ interest and help them flesh out topic areas.
Today's technology gives a bridge between learning yesterday and tomorrow, so we all should embrace it.
By Fleur Sexton, former teacher and now joint managing director of PET-Xi, training providers working with over 500 schools across the UK to help learners progress through intensive, motivational and inspirational interventions