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Just leave IT to us, Miss

Computer-savvy pupils are only too pleased to help teachers understand the latest developments.

Teachers should not even try to learn to use new technologies as they will always be behind the curve - and look stupid in the eyes of their pupils.

This surprising advice is the outcome of a study by Marc Prensky, a consultant and learning game designer whose clients include IBM, the Bank of America, and the US Department of Defense.

One pupil interviewed for the study was brutal with the truth: "Don't even try to keep up with technology - you can't. You'll only look stupid."

The argument that pupils are "digital natives", living comfortably in an electronic world that illiterate migrant adults struggle to comprehend, is familiar.

According to one 15-year-old girl: "Teachers are from the olden days, when you actually had to memorise phone numbers."

But Mr Prensky rejects the idea of sending teachers to regular crammer courses on how to use interactive whiteboards, make podcasts or post on websites.

Instead, teachers must let their pupils take the lead in using technology, difficult though it may be for many teachers to accept because it means relinquishing their "I'm the only one in the room who knows" status.

The good news is that, while teachers may not have the technological edge, they do have a better understanding of the learning objectives, or why technology is useful in the wider world.

Mr Prensky said: "YouTube videos, hot today, will be replaced by something even better tomorrow. Our kids are already moving beyond MySpace. Flash, the programming language of the moment, will be a flash in the pan." Even those teachers who want to keep up with technology will not be able to do so.

One 14-year-old from Liverpool said: "You really have to slow down when you talk to teachers." But teachers can evaluate their students' uses of the new technologies and can teach about where those technologies fit into learning.

Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopaedia to which anyone can contribute, may be an inconsistent information source and a consistent refuge for plagiarists. But teachers can harness the medium by encouraging classes to contribute, writing about their local communities and traditions.

Many schools ban mobile phone cameras, in case someone takes photographs in the girls' changing rooms.

But they can be useful in collecting and sharing evidence for science classes, or illustrating word images in literature.

Podcasting? Teachers should not be creating podcasts for their pupils, but allowing pupils to podcast, then evaluating their work.

As one 15-year-old said: "Just ask us. We're happy to help." Teachers will have to learn to work in schools where computers are no longer boxes on desks, but invisibly embedded in everyday objects, places and even people around them.

The era of ubiquitous computing, where everything interacts wirelessly with everything else, from buildings to wristwatches to pupils' basketball trainers, may be far easier for children and teenagers to grasp than their teachers who struggle to keep up.

David Ley, of the Government's education technology agency, Becta, says that computers will become like electricity or writing: we will use them without even noticing them.

How to teach with technology by Marc Prensky, in Emerging Technologies for Learning Vol 2 (Becta)

COMING SOON

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags can be embedded in just about anything, to track its whereabouts. Brittan elementary school in California faced an outcry when it required pupils to wear RFID badges to locate them around the school, and identify absentees.

There will be an estimated 70 million mobile phones with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in Europe by 2010 - and a fair few of those will be in the classroom. Even the most mundane objects will be electronically "tagged" with information - some educational, some constituting little more than digital graffiti - which children will access on their phones.

Inertia sensors in Nintendo Wii controllers detect movement; "smart dust"

can be spread widely to report, for instance, on weather conditions. These will give pupils access to a wealth of shared data, whether from the playground or from far afield.

Context information will inform the miniature computers carried by teachers and pupils, whether by stopping a mobile phone ringing in an exam hall, or reacting to a user's voice, heart rate, skin or facial expression.

Source : 'Ubiquitous Computing' by David Ley, in Emerging Technologies for Learning Vol 2 (Becta).

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