ICT IN THE CLASSROOM.
Nina MK, Ph.D.
They say that history often works in circles. Some twenty years ago, there were huge discussions about the need to introduce computers and the Internet into schools. When the school I worked at received its own Internet-class, with fourteen computer terminals and its own server, it was such a unique experience that teachers and administrators from other educational institutions flocked to the school just to see the room! Few families had computers at home; students would spend all the intermissions waiting for their chance to click, and would beg teachers to allow them to use the ICT-room after hours. Lots of adults argued that ICT was not needed at a lesson. “Can you find a text in your Internet?” my colleague had asked me. I inquired cautiously, “What kind of text?” And she replied, “An interesting one!” Yes, I could.
For today/s children, Internet is not a novelty, they were born into it. They seem to be permanently attached to a device of some kind, and are always surprised to learn that not every school, not every country in the world has the same opportunities. There is a computer in almost every school room, and if the web is needed at a lesson, this is not a problem anymore. Yet many teachers even at well-equipped modern schools never use ICT at their lessons. There is nothing bad in making do with the traditional means of teaching and learning. After all, if the power goes down, the only “tool” to be used is the teacher.
In which way would technology add value, how might it be integrated into the classroom? I have conducted teacher refresher courses for many years, and taught adults not only how, when, why it is beneficial to use ICT in the classroom, but also how to use the computers and the web. Meaning, I still deal with people who do not know how to turn on a computer, so this is Step 1 in my instructions. Surprisingly, teachers are human: similar to their own pupils, they have a great fear of making a mistake, and become very upset if they happen to click the wrong button, make a misprint, or delete everything accidentally. “UNDO” command in such cases becomes one of the favourite menu items.
For me, having an e-board and web access in the classroom is like traveling on an “all-inclusive” basis. We open up a site, a web page that we need, and proceed according to our lesson plan. When pupils ask a question or have a problem, we can click on any word, any information and open up another window. We can read, write, listen and speak using just one tool. Instead of opening textbooks, turning on a tape-recorder or a VCR, writing cards and notes, we can do all that using just the e-board. Thus a lesson becomes truly integrated, with all the skills wrapped up into one harmonious whole. At least, in an ideal world they should be.
Naturally there must be measure in what we do. If we know that our students come to us after two hours of IT, we probably should not use ICT at all or maybe turn the board or computer on for a few minutes only. If we know that the children do not have computers at home, and the technology is a novelty at school, we can think up several lessons which may show the advantages of ICT in education. It is important to start with baby-steps. If your class does not know the immense capacities of the search engines, we can begin by asking them what they would like to know, make a list, and then click on. We may introduce audio and video a bit later.
I have been writing my own lessons and lesson plans using ICT these twenty years. If there is not enough material, or if it is obsolete, I search the web for a more appropriate text, a news item or a video clip. Quite often, I would work along the familiar and traditional lines: pre-reading, reading, post-reading, listening, writing, discussion, consolidation.
For example, while teaching fifth grade, I was appalled when I saw their basic text on the Healthy Way of Life. They were supposed to memorize a lot of data on cardio-vascular diseases, balanced diets and the problems of aging. I wrote several short pieces myself, basing them on my own children’s routines, pastimes and hobbies. Then I composed various exercises which recycled the new vocabulary, found some age-appropriate dialogues on the web, and finished up with a two-minute cartoon clip. I suggested that they prepare little monologues, dialogues or sketches during their winter break. And some inspiration prodded me to add that those who had the facilities at home could try and make small presentations on the subject.
A few pupils came back to school with PPTs which they made at home, probably with their parents’ help. Everybody was given a chance to show their work to the class. I was quite astonished to see that their imagery was much more colourful and inventive than mine! Some used every colour of the rainbow in their short texts; others found funny pictures and sound tracks to go with their PPT. There were borders, shadings and backgrounds which I had never known even existed. I soon realized that actually this phenomenon was not new, that was the way children saw the world.
When I write my lessons, I see them as something functional, practical, answering an immediate need of my audience. Students introduce more variety, they find the illustrations which we adults may not even connect with a topic, and they choose sounds which may seem dissonant to us. Naturally the older they are, the more sophisticated they become. We teachers know that adolescents are more “adult” in their attitudes than the actual adults.
To sum up, if we feel that ICT enriches our lessons and helps students understand our subject better, if it makes our lives easier and more productive, we will make the technology an integral part of the whole educational process.