Saturday, August 10, 2013

Me and Technology in Education

I've had my share of involvement in the introduction and use of technology in education. In my early years of teaching, I had the good fortune of working under a visionary Principal. I was a young gungho rookie and he was looking for someone to carry out some new ideas that he had in mind. So with the support of the school's PIBG, we embarked on an ambitious programme to introduce new technology to the school.

I bought a digital projection panel for the school. It was the first in the district and many schools came to have a look how it was used. The panel is placed on a regular OHP and when hooked to the computer. That of course is 'primitive' by today's standards. But we could project anything from the computer to the screen. The only setback was it was only in 3 colours. However, it was a cheaper alternative than a projector. Projectors cost a bomb those days.

In the ensuing years we went on to create a network for the school. Routers were big and cumbersome those days and a colleague's daughter donated two old sets which she brought back from the US. We bought our own crimpers and did the wiring ourselves. By then, the Internet was already a source of information. We learned as we went along, from the technology itself.

Then I had the good fortune to be involved in the planning and design of computer labs at a time when computer labs were a rarity. With about 700k funding from one of the banks, we embarked on an ambitious project which included computerized Braille gadgets for the visually impaired students. It was at this time too I got involved in web development, using HTML. I spent a many hours working on content as well as the webpages, putting in 10-14 hours at work sometimes.

The lab project was my last foray before a break from all techie stuff for about a decade. It was a good break though, looking back as it gave me time to focus on my boy. However, I continued to keep abreast with the changing trends... Those were also days of PDAs - Sony Clie, HP Jornada, Palm Vx, Palm m500, Palm 505, Tungsten T... And through it all, I found great joy in reading from them. My world had always been a connected and mobile one, even right from those early days. My first Harry Porter book was read on a Palm.

Then a couple of years ago, I switched over to the world of Apple. It started of with a MacBook. Over the years, more Apple products entered our household... Actually, the first Apple product which we bought was an iPod Mini. Anyway, ours is now a household of Apple products - iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, iMac, MacBook (Pro)... The tablets have become part and parcel of our lives.

And this is where I find it most amazing, of how the tablets is transforming education. Recently, I brought my own Apple TV from home and hooked it up to the old projector at school. Other Half had to go searching round town for a HDMI-VGA converter to enable it to be hooked up to the VGA projector. I showed by Principal and asked him whether I could start one at school, He gave the okay and I've had the most enjoyable and liberating time teaching these past two weeks with the iPad.... minus the trailing wires or the need to be confined to a small space.

I believe that we need to bring the world into the classrooms. Many of our textbooks are archaic. They are static too. The world we live in is evolving at a dizzying pace. Many of our students are bored at school. We are losing many kids too to this along the way. Many laments that our graduates lack many skills required at the work place.

Learning should take on new dimensions. We should focus on skills like analytical and critical thinking. We should teach our students to fish and not wait to be given the fish. Our system spoon feeds them to a point of debilitating them. We should begin to focus on personalized learning. For that to work, we need to inspire. We also need technology to assist us in monitoring individual progress.

I've had the most amazing response so far. I am beginning to see sparks of interest in some of my students' eyes. I find it amazing that some of my most laid back students are now the first to come to the room where I carry out my lessons. I find it incredible that I can move from one display to another with minimal fuss. There are so many great apps which have enabled me to bring the world into my classes. And apps like Doceri which mimics the real life interactive white board with many added plusses have increased efficiency, added educational value and made lessons interesting. It glaringly overwhelms the chalkboard. And oh... minus the chalk dust too! 8)

I have seen how technology evolves, right from those days when my alma mater bought 10 sets of XT machines. Those computers came with monochrome monitors. I learned BASIC programming on them. Then when I was in uni, bro bought his computer, an AT 286 PC with a composite monitor...

I think many of us would have not imagine that we would one day be swiping and tapping screens with such ease on tablets such as the iPad. It has indeed been an amazing journey and I think it's going to get even more amazing...

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