As the classroom enters new, unknown territory, what direction will the school of tomorrow take with these technological advances?
The first investments into the Smarter Schools = Smart Economy programme should have equipped each teacher with a laptop and each classroom with a digital projector.
So how has technology impacted on schools and what pitfalls should be avoided when implementing new teaching tools?
Adamstown Castle Educate Together School
The Adamstown Castle Educate Together School was established in 2007 and soon adopted a SMART Board from Steljes in every classroom. It has 15 laptops from Intel in the primary school, and offers laptops for groups of students to work together.
Grainne Ni Lanagáin, a teacher at the school, has seen the positives of the technology. She taught an older class at first, and benefitted from the interactive whiteboard and the internet.
She then worked in language support and found many useful tools online. Now she teaches younger students, and the whiteboard helps her source songs and games for them with ease.
For her students, the technology has integrated with the primary curriculum well. “The curriculum is there and there are certain boxes that need to be ticked, but we have great flexibility in the way that we’re allowed to go about teaching it,” she says.
Teacher Dermot Stanley thinks the technology has helped improve concentration. “The children are so interested in the whiteboard and because it’s so interactive, if you have a large group around, the mere fact that they will get a chance to get a turn at using it will really hold their concentration,” he explains.
Joanna O’Donovan also teaches at the school and she believes the integration with technology and education has bridged the gap between school life and home life. “Because of the technology that’s at home, they can relate to it an awful lot more. The fact that we have it in the class makes it more interesting for children to do work at home, as well.”
Bridge21 shows the use of technology in education at another angle. It provides an alternative learning model based on an NCCA document, calling for a re-imagining of the Junior Cycle in second-level education.
Operating in Oriel House on the Trinity College campus, Bridge21’s learning model focuses on cross-curricular, team-based learning, mediated by technology. It also focuses on assisting schools in developing a curriculum and helps address the transition between primary and second-level schools.
Teachers’ use of ICT:
- A multimedia-based learning environment provides a more visual and auditory environment, where students are not just learning from textbooks.
- The technology can alleviate the workload from teachers, by exporting homework data onto an excel sheet for more efficient marking.
- The whiteboard allows the teacher to pull resources from the internet and also allows them to create more innovative lessons.
More than 1,500 students from 30 schools, such as Mercy Secondary School in Inchicore, Dublin, St Mark’s Community School in Tallaght, Dublin, and John Scottus Senior School in Donnybrook, Dublin, have taken part in their out-of-school outreach workshops, utilising these teaching methodologies.
John Lawlor, director of Bridge21, is critical of the current Junior Cycle curriculum. “The current content-heavy approach, with 12 subjects in Junior Cycle, will not produce 21st-century learning skills any more than sand and cement will not produce a Christmas cake,” he says.
“There’s no space for technology. Our classroom practice at second level is completely driven by the exam system, and the use of ICT is incidental to that. So if we want to integrate the use of ICT in second level, you have to dismantle the learning model and rebuild it.”
Claire Conneely, development manager of the programme, points out that they are not in favour of the one laptop per child policy. “We have students working in groups of four, so they might have two laptops or two desktop computers and one digital camera between them. That encourages them to work as a team more.”
Primary and second-level
Indeed, both Lawlor and Conneely are critical of the curriculum’s heavy focus on the individualised learning experience. I was intrigued by the idea that perhaps the individualised exam system was a hindrance to the effective integration of technology. I asked Ni Lanagáin if she felt that the primary-level curriculum restricted her in using the full potential of the equipment she had.
“A teacher’s style can change a lot when there’s not the same emphasis on exams,” she explains. “I’m sure in second level they’d like to go at things at different angles and they’d like to get children to interact with the content of the curriculum in different ways, but they don’t get that opportunity.
“At the end of the day, they have to be successful at a certain area in a certain way, whereas we have that flexibility for the children to access that curriculum in different ways.”
So while many educators seem happy with the actual technology, perhaps it’s the older system behind the education system that needs upgrading. By facilitating this, we can enrich a child’s learning experience and make them more prepared for the future world.