Teaching in a Digital World
A decade or so ago, when technology was first introduced in the classroom, the word e-learning had a magical ring to it. It was regarded as a separate, exotic teaching niche that was the province of ‘outliers’ – those who enjoyed being on the cutting edge. Despite the great leaps and bounds in technology in the last twenty years, teaching with technology still finds itself on the periphery of mainstream teaching. Why should this be?
The answer is lack of sufficient upskilling in the practical application of the technology. This doesn’t simply refer to the necessary ‘point-and-click’ technical training, which familiarizes users with the software, but to a more in-depth exploration of the best way in which to use digital tools in the classroom. It is a key step that is so often left out of many e-learning strategies, at both schools and universities.
The reality is that transferring curricula, or part thereof, to a digital environment is not something that comes naturally to many teachers or lecturers. The full functionality and potential of LMSes, and other digital tools, is often not clear to potential users, unless there is further contextualized instruction. Simply attending a training session on the technical aspects of a learning management system (LMS), such as Blackboard or Moodle, will not automatically equip someone to make suitable use of the platform in their classrooms.
Ideally, teachers and lecturers should be taken through a series of further training sessions that contextualize the use of the digital platforms and tool/s in the classroom. This instruction should include an understanding of the variety of ways in which students absorb information and a basic understanding of various pedagogical approaches. Some guidance in this area is advisable if the material is to be translated effectively into a digital or online learning environment.
What is often not understood about the use of educational technology is that it is not about automating the teaching process and eliminating the human factor. There is a strange fear amongst some teachers and lecturers that the technology is being introduced to replace them. This is far from the case. The technology is merely a tool, much like a blackboard or PowerPoint. Neither of these developments have taken the place of the teacher, but they have certainly assisted teachers and lecturers in teaching large groups of students more efficiently.
Creating a strong sense of the teacher’s presence, particularly in a fully online course, is vital. This involves much more than the teacher being present in real-time, in a virtual way. Most online courses contain sets of tasks that are not directly supervised. These tasks need to be structured in such a way that they assist the student in grasping the topic or subject at hand and give the student a sense that the teacher is virtually present, guiding the student in the exploration of the subject.
Current educational technology provides the means to deliver and order information in a variety of ways, including the integration of video and audio. However, technology should never be used simply for the sake of it. Suitable application of the technology is key to the successful use of technology in the classroom, lecture hall or online environment. The student needs to see the benefit of an online task. If not, they are not likely to see the technology as something that will not be of help to them in their studies.
Knowledge of the competent and thoughtful use of technology in the classroom is becoming vital in the current fast-paced technological climate in which children and young adults are communicating and interacting through a variety of technology-based channels. It is, therefore, vital for teachers and lecturers to be aware of and keep up to date with the latest tools at their disposal and their application in the classroom.