Technology and Professional Development Training: Why schoolworld needs more knowledge instead of more gear
Digital technologies in the classroom are increasingly ubiquitous but debate on the actual usefulness of classroom technologies is anything but settled. Proponents of increased technology use highlight the potential to engage and empower students by letting them proceed at the pace they want with interesting and varied content. At the same time they will be learning important digital skills. Those not so in favor of high-tech classrooms question whether increased technology use has had any actual impact on test scores. There is a worry that tech use is more of a distraction than an aid to students and some even go as far as to say that schools are to blame for getting kids addicted to smartphones and social media.
While the concerns are real and should be taken seriously, it would be naive to believe technology to be the root of all that is wrong in schools these days. Just as it is naive to believe that technology could offer an immediate and easy solution to the problems in schools. The biggest questions are: what kind of technologies are being used in the classroom and how are they being used by the teachers.
Technology is not a replacement for a teacher and using it as such is bound to end in disappointment. Educational apps and games can be of great use in the classroom. However, one of the biggest challenges in adopting digital technologies into the classroom is providing adequate training for the teachers. There are two main reasons why training is important:
1. The teacher needs to understand the basic functioning of the system so that using it does not become a burden.
This is what most training is concerned about. The practical matters such as how to use the software and hardware.
2. The teacher needs to understand why the technology is in the classroom.
Not understanding why a technology is in the classroom can lead to a feeling that the technology is controlling the teacher’s work instead of being an empowering tool. This can lead to a feeling that the technology is taking away the teacher’s autonomy. Lack of teacher autonomy is a major demotivating factor, which reflects on the students as well. Limiting these scenarios is thus very important to the success of adopting any technologies in the classroom.
So how can we help teachers to better understand the role of technology in the classroom? The two main reasons for training should not be separated from each other. Effective professional training has to take into account the how as well as the why of technology. In our experience the best way to achieve that is by making something yourself with technology. It helps you form a more meaningful and personal relationship with whatever technology you are using. There is intrinsic motivation to learn to use technology better when it can be applied to a creative interest. This will also help to underline the fact that technology is simply a tool - how we use it is up to us.
Understanding that technology is a tool is especially important when talking about programming. Programming can easily seem like an abstract and difficult concept. However, a recent study hints that many teachers have a positive attitude towards introducing programming in the classroom. The condition is, that the teachers receive enough professional training and information on how to implement it to the syllabus. The teachers are also concerned with having enough time for all this.
Lack of time is a real issue and a major source of stress. One solution is to learn by teaching. Although it might seem scary at first, this is in fact related to how most programmers learn coding. It is not so much about knowing everything about the technology (like a programming language) by heart, but how and where to find help when the need arises. So as a teacher it is not necessary to know everything straight away. As long as the preparation is efficient, there is no need to spend too much time on it.
Teaching programming can definitely be made fun when you are making something creative and meaningful. This is exactly why we have created Mehackit Atelier! Atelier is an e-learning service dedicated to helping teachers all around the world to discover the creative side of programming. The video tutorials will help both the teacher and students to create fun artistic projects with code. There are plenty of extra tips and instructions for the teachers, so you’ll always be prepared to help your students move forward with their projects. We are currently developing a new part of Atelier focused on Professional Development in co-creation with Finnish teachers so that any teacher can find creative uses for technology!