A Discussion Into Learning In The Digital Age

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Here I am, writing a blog post reflecting on today’s lecture about learning in the digital age. Quite simply I am having first-hand experience of using technology to communicate with peers, evaluate and discuss. Had I thought too much about the use of technology in learning before today? Honestly not really, but the lecture has made me question its use, whether it has a positive or negative influence on learning and planning when best to use it in lessons.

Is it a negative or positive? Let’s focus on a negative thought to begin. I have seen and worked with children using interactive whiteboards in class, at the time I didn’t question what was happening but after today I have to ask what are these children really learning? If a child is playing a maths game and moves numbers across the page, they may get the answer right but how much cognitive engagement is there? Do children actually understand why it is right? Or the process of working out? I remember at school having maths texts books and the teacher set the task of answering questions one to ten. The answers are all in the back of the book, easy then, just copy the correct answers when the teacher wasn’t looking, then you have the inevitable question “how did you get that answer?”  Red faced to have been caught out and not being able to answer, is this not how children can be today with the use of technology?

Understandably there are times when the use of technology is positive, times such as live demonstrations, for example on how birds catch their prey. Teachers could do all the input about it and explain how it happens but being able to show a clip from the internet may help children to make the connection between learning in the classroom to the outside world. Using technology to reinforce learning rather than as the be all and end all. Whilst on the topic of reinforcing learning I have also been fortunate to see how a teacher used technology in what I believe is an effective way. A year 5 class had been reading a book, all about a cat that had got lost in London, didn’t know where he was and on the one time he had tried to escape he had come into contact with the bad cats. The class had various e-mail conversations with the cat and also had a chat room chat. It was decided that the next plan of action was to help the cat escape, using Google maps the children had to direct the cat back the British museum without going on certain roads. The children enjoyed this and used skills that will be useful to them all their life. However for all the positives here I question why could they not have used a paper map? How about sending letters to the cat rather than email or a mixture of both?

During the Skype chat with the year 5 children today, one child said that they like using the computers as it makes the learning quicker and easier, but should learning be easier and quicker? Quality teaching I suppose to some could be quick and easy but I believe that it takes time and effort on both parts to really get the best teaching and learning. I felt happy when collectively the children agreed that they didn’t like reading off a screen, reading is not just about the words on the page but about the feel of a book and with the government worried about children’s health then surely looking at a screen for prolonged periods of time is not helping with this.  I think that teachers should plan when it is appropriate to use technology in schools and my personal believe is that technology should be used as a tool to reinforce learning, demonstrate something otherwise hard to do or to make reference into how something works in the real world.

By Charlotte

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3 thoughts on “A Discussion Into Learning In The Digital Age

  1. I must admit, I’m still on the fence re use of computers and certainly Charlotte and I are not alone in this feeling. According to Alexander et al in their Cambridge Primary Review 2010, many of the Review’s witnesses, including parents, educationalists and other community members raised “Doubts about the power and negative influence of information technology” (Alexander et al, p.55). The Review also makes reference to Sue Palmer’s book Toxic Childhood, where she refers to the issue of technology moving at “lightning speed” (Palmer 2006, p.55 cited in Alexander et al 2010) and how this can be damaging to children’s ability to learn, a point of view that was upheld by the child’s response “because it’s quicker and easier” mentioned above by Charlotte. In the last two weeks we have been introduced to the importance of ‘relational’ vs ‘instrumental’ understanding and the necessity of encouraging ‘divergent thinking’, all of which would appear to be challenged by the one-stop-solution offered by the internet, for example.

    Where I think ICT or computing may come into its own is in providing access to the curriculum for SEN children. For example, Eddie Carron’s Literacy Toolbox. Using one aspect of the software, a text can be uploaded (maybe a book on the life cycle of plants!). The child can then decide to have the text read to them first and then they read through it at their own pace, using the space bar to highlight each word. If they’re struggling they can then click on the word to hear it dictated to them again. I’ve seen it make an enormous difference to children with dyslexia who are not then under the pressure of traditional classroom reading and also have the confidence immensely boosted because they are successfully reading the same books as their peers. Another example would be the number of cd-roms available to teach deaf children literacy and numeracy, using a combination of pictures, words/numbers and British Sign Language.

    I’m with Charlotte – the use of technology must be appropriate and in conjunction with other media. But the benefits in the classroom for children unable to access the curriculum in traditional ways cannot be discounted.

    References

    Alexander et al (2010) Children, their World, their Education: Final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review, Oxon: Routledge

  2. I agree with you Kirsty, about still being on the fence on this topic. I like the reference that Charlotte used as to the use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom. Before our lecture, I thought they were great and had seen teachers use them as a tool for getting children involved in the lessons. Since then I, like Charlotte, have come to question about how much learning is taking place from the use of them in schools.

    I do think that technology has it’s place in acquiring knowledge but can also make us become too complacent with the knowledge we gain. I liked the example used when talking about electricity circuits. Evidently there is a website which shows you how to put together a circuit in order to light a bulb. But surely the best way to get children to truly understand what they are doing is by getting them to build the circuit themselves? They can then see the unreliability of a bulb that doesn’t work even when connected properly and be able to draw conclusions from this, something they wouldn’t be able to experience through a virtual explanation that works every time. They can explore, challenge and adapt ideas through the physical act of making something and seeing it work – surely this provides a sense of pride and achievement? Is that something that digital technology can provide? On the flip side of this I can see how technology can allow us to access information that we wouldn’t be able to replicate for ourselves in the classroom. This links in to what Charlotte and Kirsty have both referred to: using technology appropriately and in conjunction with other media.

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