How are South African schools implementing technology integration?

Every now and then we will feature a post about a school that is taking brave steps in that direction.  Today’s post is a guest post written by Arthur Preston, Headmaster at Lanner House, a private co-ed school in Worcester. He is a passionate educator and school leader who is determined to see schools learn to utilise social media and technology in better ways inside and outside the classroom. Arthur writes a blog called Headthoughts. His school uses Twitter and Facebook. He is also a co-founder of EdtechConf which is an organization that assists schools in holding seminars and workshops in the use of educational technology.  

Lanner House (Worcester) – from computer lab to classroom

Back in 2008 our computer lab was filled with 10-year old machines which, quite frankly, had been neglected and were no longer fit for proper ICT instruction. In 2009 our pupils raised money through a project we entitled “A Time For Change” and by collecting R5 coins managed to raise enough funding to set up an entire computer lab complete with flat screen monitors and new CPUs – no small feat for a school of 120 pupils!

We have never had a specialist ICT teacher and we recognised the need for our pupils to learn ICT skills. Classroom teachers did not feel they were properly equipped to teach ICT and so I ended up as the ICT teacher. Our pupils learnt basic HTML, keyboard skills, blogging, wiki building and so on. As the months wore on I became increasingly unsettled about the status quo. On reflection I realised there were two main reasons for this :

1) So much of what I was doing with the pupils had obvious application in various learning areas and was cross-curricular in nature. However I was operating in isolation from the class teachers.

2) By keeping the teaching of ICT to myself I was robbing our teachers of the opportunity to expand their professional skill set by embracing technology in their teaching practice.

The question was how to equip our class teachers with the skills needed to begin to use technology in their lessons. They also needed to be exposed to the myriad tools online, many of which are free and quite easy to use. I mainly used three strategies to do this :

1) I developed a Lanner House staff website through which our teachers could access their school email, online class admin and so on. On the front page of this site I placed a widget showing the latest postings from a Diigo group (social bookmarking) I had set up for our teachers. I encouraged our teachers to join and contribute to this group. This kept new tools and websites visible to the teachers.

2) I offered staff workshops for those who wanted to learn more. These were optional and gave me a good idea who the people were who would be the Early Adopters.

3) I made it my business to speak regularly in casual conversation with the teachers about the use of technology in the classroom. This helped to keep the idea of tech integration active.

By the end of 2010 I was certain that the time was right for us to move the computers from the lab to each classroom. Early this year we took the plunge, arranged for the necessary network cabling to be installed and moved PCs to each classroom. All but three of our classrooms now have at least three internet-connected computers which may be accessed during the day. The remaining classrooms will be equipped during the first month of the 2012 school year. Our small classes, largest class is 15, make it possible for every child to have regular time on the computers.

We sent a delegation to the inaugural EdTechConf conference in May of this year which exposed our teachers to some wonderful and exciting ideas for ICT integration in the curriculum. I have not made it compulsory to integrate technology into the curriculum this year but have encouraged the teachers to experiment with this and with classroom strategies which ensure the best use of this resource. 2012 will see the compulsory integration of ICT into various curriculum modules.

Although it is still early days I have noticed the following consequences of our decision to move the computers into the classrooms :

a) Teachers who had previously avoided ICT are now experimenting with integration of IT into their teaching, resulting in an “If she can do it, so can I!” ethos amongst the staff.

b) There are no longer timetable conflicts which result from having one venue in which computers are situated.

c) Teachers have begun to experiment with different teaching strategies in their classrooms now that  they have immediate and easy access to computers.

d) Three of our teachers have now set up class websites, two have begun e-pal correspondence programs with schools (both local and overseas), one has her pupils using glogster and there is an overwhelming acceptance that we have turned a corner with our use of technology in the curriculum. This is accompanied by a general sense of excitement and wonder as teachers begin to realise that embracing technology in their teaching practice is neither scary nor difficult.

Our computer network is simple, our resources limited and yet we are moving into a reality which was unthinkable even four years ago. Our decision to move computers into classrooms has helped move our school towards becoming a true 21st century learning environment. There is of course much more in becoming a 21st century school than simply moving computers but it has moved us closer to that goal. If we had more financial resources at our disposal we may consider moving into a one-laptop-per-child scenario or beginning a project which equips each classroom with an iPad-bank. However I believe that we have made a necessary and important adjustment to our curriculum and teaching practice by abolishing the formal computer lab.

We have noticed that children who are not exposed to computers at home learn how to type and use the mouse as they participate in ICT-linked class activities. The teacher facilitates the learning and skill development. The use of spreadsheets, databases, word processors and so on becomes an outcome of the task set by the teacher in a particular learning area and those pupils who are not proficient have an incentive for skill development and their teacher assists them in learning that particular skill. With computers in the classroom, pupils needing extra assistance may work on the computers at times other than the official “Computer Lesson” time ensuring maximum exposure to IT skill development.

Is there place for a computer lab in a primary school? I know there will be those who disagree vehemently with me because of the particular circumstances of their school, but I believe that we need to be equipping classrooms with computers, training teachers in their use and making the integration of technology into the curriculum compulsory. The abolition of the computer lab may be a process which takes several years but I believe the computer lab as we know it today, is (and perhaps should be) an endangered species.

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