Don't short-circuit learning through fear, says expert

27th March 2015 at 00:00
Teachers and parents urged to be confident in using technology

Teachers and parents should not be afraid to use technology to support learning, according to a leading academic.

Andrew Manches, a chancellor's fellow at the University of Edinburgh, told the Bookbug Conference last week that technology could be a great tool to support learning if used properly. However, this demanded "expertise and know-how", he said.

Dr Manches acknowledged that using technology could sometimes be an isolating experience that did not allow children to express themselves. But he said that in the right hands, smartphone apps and computer technology could be a vehicle for pupils to engage and be creative.

However, he noted that this required teachers who were confident and willing to embrace technology.

After his speech at the Scottish Book Trust-organised conference, Dr Manches told TESS that the most effective technology was not necessarily the most expensive or up-to-date. "There is a lot out there already that can be very useful, it is about how you use that," he said.

"A lot can be done with computers or audio recorders. You can do really powerful things. The power of technology to help children learn depends on the teacher's skills."

He also said it often took a number of years for appropriate and successful pedagogy to develop. "If you remember the interactive whiteboards, that was a disaster. Now, 10 years down the line, we are starting to see great pedagogy. We are seeing the same with the iPad."

Using apps and technology that allowed for interactive work and communication was vital, Dr Manches explained. "You sometimes see classes of 30 where every child has an iPad. Instead, take them outside and use one of the apps that lets you do a news report or something like that."

To ensure that more teachers felt confident in finding the best way to use technology, Dr Manches suggested more sharing of best practice. It was too easy for some teachers to say technology was just not for them, he said.

Professor Lydia Plowman, an academic at the University of Edinburgh's Moray House School of Education, told the conference that parents should be urged not to be scared of their preschool children using technology.

Professor Plowman said that Ofcom figures from last October showed that more than a quarter of three- and four-year-olds now lived in a home with a tablet and had use of it; about one in 10 had a tablet they considered their own. She added that knowing what made parents anxious about their children using technology could help in deciding how to reassure them: "Is it the screen time or the content, or the social interaction?"

Adults should also try to share in their children's learning and extend play beyond the tablet or computer where possible, Professor Plowman added.

Meanwhile, a leading independent school leader in England last week warned that parents were often cautious about the growing use of technology in the classroom.

According to Tricia Kelleher, principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge - which focuses on cutting-edge technology and provides iPads for all pupils - many parents still wanted to see "lever-arch files with lots of notes".

"They want to see neat learning that they recognise, because that was their learning. But actually that's not what learning needs to be for tomorrow," Ms Kelleher told an independent school conference in Berkshire.

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