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Students at the park

Anyone who has been involved in education for a significant period of time will be able to name a piece of technology that was once touted as the next great solution/game changer – and have at least anecdotal evidence of how this never materialised.

Attend any one of the annual ‘education shows’ locally or abroad, and one cannot help but come away feeling quite cynical about technology and the lengths vendors will go to sell their appliances/devices – all in the name of better education. My own latest pet peeve was a TV vendor trying to convince bystanders that one can only understand the true nature of DNA when you see it in 3D. Really?

As a result of these kinds of experiences, many educators and school principals are quite skeptical about the use of technology in the classroom, viewing it as more of a distraction than a ‘value- add’. It is therefore understandable that these educators will also question whether the latest technology fad can be used successfully and sustainably in a classroom environment.

The principals and educators in this category find themselves confronted with a problem: their learners are immersed in technology. Says author Jean Twenge: “Today’s youth are exposed to digital technology in many aspects of their day-to-day existence – this has a profound impact on their personalities, including their attitudes and approach to learning.”

It has become commonplace to differentiate between different generations and their characteristics in discourses on education and innovation. In fact, most of us are quite familiar with terms such as ‘digital natives’ and ‘millennials’. Although the suitability of the former term has been questioned, there seems to be some consensus that people between 1982 and 2004 can be called millennials. (The case has not yet been made for those born after 2004 (some prefer 2000) – Generation Z, Net Generation, iGeneration and Post Gen are a few labels that come to mind.)

The more significant issue is the common thread that informs heuristics like these – namely an attempt to come to grips with learners who are comfortable with technology in one form or another as part of their daily lives, and the challenges this poses for education.  (Normally in discussions like these, one would have to point out that these kinds of umbrella terms are too general and should not apply to a country like the UAE, due to the differences between income levels and social classes. However, as far as technology – and specifically mobile technology – is concerned, it is fair to say that learners from all levels of society are already exposed to mobile technology to some extent.)

So clearly, as far as our learners are concerned, technology is not going away. As millennials and the net Generation, they will be increasingly immersed in technology, specifically mobile technology (phones, tablets, wearable devices), and this exposure will keep influencing the way they think and interact with the world and also what they expect from their education environment. The apprehension and skepticism with which some educators view technology, whether justified or not, should not be allowed to hinder its use in schools. All stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process as it relates to the use of technology. In schools where the staff lack the necessary expertise, a good idea would be to use the students as the experts and let them lead in this process.

By Dr. J Liebenberg – Guest Contributor

Dr. J (Lieb) Liebenberg is the CEO of IT School Innovation and a guest researcher at the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He is a member of the International Association for Mobile Learning and regularly delivers papers internationally at the MLearn conferences.

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