Digital divide between teachers and students

30 Apr 2007

There is a threat of a growing digital divide between teachers and their increasingly tech-savvy students that must be bridged as soon as possible, a leading Cisco education expert told

Dr Michelle Selinger is networking giant Cisco’s executive adviser on education for Europe and her work involves research and dissemination of effective solutions for e-learning in all aspects of education and training.

Selinger has a strong teaching background, working in the past as a secondary school maths and economics teacher as well as with the Open University and latterly the University of Warwick where she was the director of the centre for New Technologies Research in Education.

Speaking with Selinger said: “We believe connectivity is important in the context of education because it can raise the quality of education as well as improving children’s contribution and making them feel involved.”

Selinger warned that the gulf between teachers not trained in new technology and their students who are au fait with text messaging, instant messaging and Bebo is becoming increasingly obvious.

“Teachers and schools are not aware of the tools the kids use – ranging from Bebo to Second Life, Wikis and blogs – and view them as distractions rather than enablers. Their attitude is to leave them outside the school gates. Because they don’t use the technology themselves they are not confident about technology.”

Selinger said it was necessary to bring about a sea change in educators’ attitudes to using technology. “It should really be about how we can bring 21st-century skills to the kids. They will leave school, go into higher education and largely through their own initiative they will have the skills they will need for the knowledge economy.”

She said funding teachers to start using technology as part of their professional development was crucial. “If you teach the teachers how to use technology they will see how productive it can be and they can harness that for use in a learning environment.

“This in turn will improve the way children learn and can work collaboratively in the way of the 21st-century workplace.”

Selinger said teachers can find using technology will help them to be more productive and organised. “Part of the problem is teachers see themselves as experts in education, not technology. There may be great teachers but may not be into using technology.

“The challenge every country intent on getting technology into schools faces is getting more teachers and principals to bite the bullet and use computers and the internet.”

Selinger highlighted the use of wireless networks has a seminal, game-changing technology for schools. “The use of wireless brings the computer lab to the classroom rather than the class to the lab. It will make a huge difference in integrating technology into the classroom.

“The computer lab is an Eighties concept that harks back to the day we didn’t have connectivity. Every classroom should have computers.”

When it comes to investing in technology, particularly looking at the Irish Government’s investment in broadband and computers for schools, Selinger said a top-down investment on its own wouldn’t be enough. She said the Government should be prepared to reinvest continually in upskilling teachers and providing equipment and connectivity.

“If a Government was investing in technology for schools today I would urge them to be investing in 2010 technology, not technology that suits 2007. They should always be looking ahead.”

She also recommends educators talk to the students themselves to see what technologies they think would matter in schools. “Children should be consulted on how that money is being spent.

“One idea would be to set up a Bebo-like community page where they can throw up ideas. Really, educators should be getting the vested interests to contribute too,” she suggested.

While debates rage about ethics on social network pages and how use of SMS could be interfering with the use of proper English, Selinger believes people are missing the most important point. “Never has there been a time when teenagers have been writing so much.

“In the past you couldn’t get a teenager to write something down on paper, now they’re happily writing blogs. Kids who actually write stuff online actually do worry about quality and conveying their meaning. As well as that, if they’re not comfortable writing, why can’t they create a video or multimedia presentation to convey their meaning? They’ll need such skills in the workforce.

“We need to return to such a time as when creativity and curiosity were valued,” Selinger said.

By John Kennedy