Issue 14

Teachers are only as good as their online resources

Malcolm Hay wanted to learn how to develop online resources that would encourage independent learning among his carpentry students. His research led him to test how students actually use the Web and how they react to simple interactive learning environments. Here’s what he found.

We now have online learning environments in schools and it does not look as if they are going to go away. We, as teachers, are in the position where it is expected that we know how to use them and to be comfortable with them. But how do we develop effective online resources? My research led me to ask how students actually interact with the Web and make use of their time online, as well as how they react to fairly simple interactive resources that are well within most teachers’ capability to create.

Pedagogy over technology
As professional educators, it’s important to realise that it’s the pedagogy behind the development of the resources that is more important than the technology behind the presentation. Having said that, today’s students often live in a technological environment at home that is 10 years in advance of what we can offer at school. This does not mean that schools should give up trying, it’s merely an explanation for the attitudes of many students who appear to be bored in a learning environment that their teachers are still marvelling at.

What this means is that we can no longer count on the ‘wow’ effect when we introduce technology into our teaching. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It does mean, however, that the effects of our use of technology are now more subtle. Good teaching has not changed but the environment in which good teaching must take place has.

Re-think what you’re trying to achieve
All of the teachers that I interviewed for my research stated that they were more aware of the pedagogy behind their teaching when they were developing resources for the new learning environment. It’s my opinion that those teachers who choose to be involved in the implementation of new technologies in teaching often benefit from having to re-think what it is that they’re actually trying to achieve, becoming, in the process, more aware of the actual learning taking place.

To create resources that promote greater student interaction and independent learning it’s not necessary to reach the technological pinnacle by producing stunning simulators and games. We, as educators, need to learn to direct the students’ need for entertainment into channels where positive learning takes place. It’s not that interactive resources must replace paper resources or that we must pander to the whims of our students in their search for ‘fun’, rather that we should recognise that the environment in which our students have grown up in is more radically different from that of previous generations. We also have to recognise that this does influence their learning style and the learning environments in which they feel comfortable. If we do not, we run the risk of losing touch with them.

Students expect interaction
To conclude, it’s not the technological brilliance of the resources we create that engages and motivates students. In the environment they have grown up in they expect a degree of interaction but, more importantly, the resources must be relevant to the subject and cater to a variety of learning styles.

Although complex simulators can cater for the needs of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners, we can achieve a lot by producing many simpler resources, which provide for a wide range of learning styles. Colourful, bold, self-explanatory resources often manage to stimulate the students to interact with them and with the learning environment.

Malcolm Hay teaches at Orewa College and is studying for a Masters. This is an abstract from his Participatory Action Research project.

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Categories: Issue 14