The issue - The digital divide
According to a recent survey by Microsoft, six out of 10 pupils reckon they know more about technology than their ICT teachers - a disconcerting thought for IT specialists, and a downright daunting one for most other teachers, who may feel cut off by this so-called "digital divide". But there's no need to despair, says Miles Berry, vice-chair of schools' ICT association Naace.
"Young people aren't always as skilled as they like to think they are," he says, suggesting that the Microsoft findings may reflect a touch of youthful arrogance. "Students tend to be adept at using search engines, and are tremendously good at using the web to communicate with each other - but it's all a bit superficial. Teachers have a vital role to play in challenging students, and encouraging them to use technology in a more meaningful way."
In particular, he says, teachers can help young people to make sense of information and cast a more critical eye over websites. They can also encourage pupils to create their own digital content, rather than being mere internet surfers. And allowing classes to use technology for routine tasks - perhaps doing web research on their phones - is an easy way to ensure that you aren't seen as a Luddite.
Of course, you'll be better placed to give pupils a push if you have at least a basic understanding of the technology and its potential. There is a huge range of training available - much of it free and online. Two of the best-known schemes are the government-funded Vital programme, and Naace's own ICT CPD 4 Free. But the best training is often informal, and schools can make a difference simply by encouraging teched-up teachers to share their ideas.
"It can work in two ways," says Paul Walters, ICT development manager at King James's School, in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. "Sometimes I give presentations to the rest of the staff, but more often a colleague will come to me with an idea for a lesson and I'll show them how to make it work, perhaps even go into their classroom and lend a hand."
The key to good ideas, he says, is to know how young people use technology in their spare time. So how does he keep up to speed? "By being a bit nosy, basically. If I see a kid with a new mobile phone, then I'll talk to them about it, ask them what it can do. And if pupils are working in the computer room at lunchtime, I'll watch how they use the web and see which sites they're visiting. Then you start to think of ways of building an educational element on to the things they already do - most teachers are really good at that."
Mr Berry agrees that you don't need to be a computer wizard to cast a spell in the classroom. "There really is no need to worry; it's a question of a positive attitude," he says. "Teaching is about meeting people where they are, and helping them go further. You just have to see it as a partnership. Your students have the technical skills, you have the teaching expertise - together that's a winning combination."
WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO
- Take an interest in how young people use technology out of school.
- Don't be afraid to ask pupils for suggestions on using technology in lessons.
- Seek help from colleagues; share ideas.
- Choose a training course for your level.
- The Vital programme is delivered by the Open University (www.e- skills.comeducationteachers),
- Naace runs a range of courses (www.ictcpd4free.co.uk) and the NUT organises ICT training for members (www.teachers.org.ukict-skills).
- Secondary teachers should check with their subject associations about training. Primary teachers should try www.primaryict.org.uk.