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The Digital Learning Curve: 3 ways school leaders can help teachers stay ahead

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Meghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. Here she talks about three ways school leaders can help teachers stay ahead of technology trends.

Regardless of whether we are thrilled with or terrified of the digital revolution that is sweeping our classrooms, the reality is that the decision to use technology in the classroom is not always left up to the teacher. In order to stay up-to-date (and in some cases, competitive), schools are investing more in interactive white boards, computer labs and laptops for students. Teachers across the world may walk into classrooms this year that seem foreign, filled with technological tools and applications that they may not even know how to use, let alone know why they should be using them.

Technology has the potential to revolutionise the way teaching and learning occurs, however this will not be possible without confident, knowledgeable and prepared teachers. What can school leaders do to ensure that their teachers do not fall behind the digital learning curve?

Training

Both teachers and school leaders need training in order to ensure that digital tools are directing learning towards educational goals rather than away from them. Firstly, teachers need training in the basic functionality of digital tools. Not knowing how to turn the page of an on-screen course book or embed a video into a presentation can seriously limit the potential impact of digital tools. Perhaps even more importantly, a lack of basic technological knowledge can be disempowering for a teacher and can lead to further fear and avoidance of educational technology.

Teachers need to be confident and knowledgeable not only about how to use digital tools, but how to use them in ways that lead to a better educational experience. Having learners watch a YouTube video without giving them any sort of task to do along with it will do little more than keep learners briefly entertained. And just because we have thousands of tools, apps, and resources at our fingertips doesn’t mean we should walk into class without an idea of what we want learners to achieve. If we do not think carefully about how to actively involve learners through technology, our lessons are at risk of becoming technology-centred rather than learner-centred.

Time

Even confident, tech-savvy teachers need time to understand how digital tools will best suit the needs of their learners, and this can only happen by using technology in practice. Of course, it is not only the teachers who need time to adjust; the same is true for learners. Learners may not understand what is expected of them and may simply be excited by the arrival of new technology. At first, this may be frustrating for teachers as activities may seem chaotic and unfocused. Both teachers and learners need time to adjust to new routines and ways of learning.

School leaders also need time to consider how (and if) new digital policies and programmes are helping teachers and learners reach curricular goals more effectively. This requires a great deal of patience and faith on everyone’s part; we may discover that what was a great idea in theory doesn’t work well in practice. We may also find out that a programme which seemed destined to fail in the beginning turns out to be a phenomenal success!

Support

Teachers need to know that they have the support and understanding of their superiors.  One way to do this is through departmental forums where teachers can have open dialogues about their digital experiences with learners. This not only fosters a better understanding of what is actually happening both in and out of teachers’ classrooms, but provides the opportunity for teachers to share diverse solutions to complex problems. The reality is that every teacher experiences both successes and failures in implementing new digital tools and programmes, and being able to discuss it openly is an important part of the digital learning curve.

Indeed, technology will allow us to provide a better education for learners, and school leaders play an important role in helping their teachers stay ahead of the curve through the right balance of training, time and support.

What do you do to help your teachers (or yourself) stay ahead of the digital learning curve?

[Photo by Brad Flickinger via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

8 thoughts on “The Digital Learning Curve: 3 ways school leaders can help teachers stay ahead

  1. Pingback: The Digital Learning Curve: 3 ways school leaders can help teachers stay ahead | Learning skills and literacies | Scoop.it

  2. In dealing with CALL and technology in the classroom, I’ve always found it most important to start with the basics (to the extent of explaining to teachers what Facebook is all about and how it can/cannot be used in school) and then move up. What comes next is regular – and I mean regular – short seminars giving teachers updates on the use and world of technology in the classroom. It moves so fast it has to be programmed into the school timetable so that teachers don’t get left behind!

    I often visit schools and give seminars on this subject and for those of us who deal with tech every day sometimes it’s surprising how little penetration it has amongst teachers who occasional struggle to deal with it when their students are more often than not more knowledgeable about the subject!

    • Hi ‘ICAL TEFL’,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment- you make some very good points! I am glad you brought up the issue of how little many teachers are really able (or willing?) to take on board at any given time. I think there is also a misconception coming from school leaders that once teachers get training on a particular topic or skill, they are able to apply it to practice. As you point out, that is simply not the case. Teachers need frequent training AND support from a number of different sources. Getting our heads around educational technology takes a lot of effort and patience. The more willing leaders (and all stakeholders) are to develop a recognition and sensitivity towards this, the better the learning experience will be. Just out of curiosity, what kind of seminars do you give? Are they functionality-specific or do they integrate ELT pedagogy issues as well?

  3. Hi, Meghan, İ totally concur with everything you stated in your guest post. İ too work in Turkey and travel to many schools out in the provinces. Over the past year, in particular, İ have seen a great more people interested in learning about İCT, yet very few of them have wanted to collaborate after the seminars. This has been really disappointing and İ guess it mirrors what you say above about teachers getting some pd, but not actually doing anything with it. it is very frustrating to hear from one’s audience that they don’t even tweet, let alone learn about the wealth of magnificent digital materials available to us all for free. However, as we go along trying to get our İCT message out there, the sector has come on in leaps and bounds over the past two years. predict great things ahead, for sure, but it is going to take time, effort and a pile of TL. İ am hearing of many schools investing in tablets, İWBs and outside PD help. This can only be a good thing for the educators and students in terms of pedagogy. İ only hope they can read your post and take your advice that money, time and training needs to be given to teachers first, and long before they are expected to face a class of tablet-FB-obsessed teenagers.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to the post- you are absolutely right in mentioning that we have come a long way in a very short time. There are more and more educators out there seeing the benefits of educational technology. I might also add that it is these educators who need to step up to provide the technical, pedagogical (and moral!) support for those who are less-than-enthusiastic about tech. This will take a lot of time and training. Above all, willingness to use technology cannot be forced. Everyone needs the opportunity to experiment with new tools in a comfortable environment (which does not include standing in front of a ‘class of tablet-FB-obsessed teenagers’ on the first day of a new semester)! While some teachers are more than willing to jump head first into the digital revolution, it is up to school leaders to provide the training, time and support for the rest!

    • Very nice post and comments! Although it is not very easy everywhere to have a class with tablets for everybody, some very good exercises can be done if you have at least two computers, tablets or smartphones. Visit the site http://www.typewith.me that offers free acces to a multi-user platform. It’s a nice tool for cooperative writing and to use process approach in writing, according to a very nice workshop held at Braz-TESOL by Ramon Pereira Moravski and Paloma Mazzarotto.

  4. An eye opener blog for the teachers of our age.

  5. Pingback: The Role, Importance, and Power of Words « Oxford University Press – English Language Teaching Global Blog @OUPELTGlobal

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