Opinion: Educating the educators

by Elaine Shuck11 Dec 2015

Technology in all its guises continues to have a pervasive impact on every aspect of our lives. In particular, its transformative impact has left an indelible mark on the education sector. Today, technology has become embedded in all elements of the learning experience. The Internet, smart boards and other collaboration solutions such as HD video, are all being used to enrich and improve the provision of education. Further, they are also being leveraged to help overcome many of the barriers facing the sector today, such as resource shortages and shrinking budgets.
Indeed, the use of technology in the classroom is no longer a nice to have, but an imperative – both for schools that wish to remain competitive and for students who require new skills to become truly global citizens. Unfortunately, recent reports have found that Australian teachers continue to struggle to integrate technology into classroom learning effectively.
There are several reasons why this might be the case. For example, teachers may not see the value of technology in their particular subject area, or they may work in a school environment where senior management do not understand or encourage the use of technology. Over and above this however, one of the most significant barriers is often the limited technology-related professional development teachers receive. Evidently, there is a growing need to educate educators on ways they can effectively harness various technologies in the classroom.
Technology in the classroom
Australia has recognised this growing need and we are already seeing a major shift in the adoption of technology in the classroom. While the move is clearly a positive step forward, teachers should be motivated by a desire to integrate technology because it supports improved teaching outcomes, not simply to prove they know how to use technology tools at their disposal. They need to start thinking of video conferencing and other technologies as just another tool for teaching and learning.
The use of the Internet and Microsoft processing tools are among the common technologies used within schools today. Nevertheless, what are some of the more innovative and beneficial teaching styles that incorporate technology?
Virtual Excursions
Virtual excursions are an easy way to incorporate technology in the classroom. Schools leverage collaboration tools like video solutions to virtually travel and interact with peers and subject-matter experts locally and globally. Virtual excursions break geographic boundaries, enabling schools to leverage resources from hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away.
One of the biggest advantages to adopting this technology-based teaching approach is that educators have the flexibility to bring anyone into a virtual classroom. For example, music teachers could invite a guest pianist to join the class remotely and interact directly with participating students. Not only does this create a deeper learning experience, it also makes education more engaging and stimulating for students.
Collaborative Clusters
Collaborative clusters is another teaching method that is gaining ground quickly. Teachers can now record a session prior to class, allowing them to set the stage for what will happen in that specific class environment. With lecture capture, students are no longer limited to in-class experiences – they can view recorded lessons anytime, anywhere.
Having viewed the lecture  or tutorial, students may then break into cluster groups to collaborate on a specific topic. This allows the educator to spend more one-on-one time with the students working on group projects, completing homework and participating in more in-depth discussions.
When teachers get it right, collaborative clusters not only promote interaction and content sharing, they also significantly improve engagement among students.
Moving Forward
Evidently, technology is transforming the way students learn. Education institutions and providers need to embrace the opportunities this poses and leverage technology to provide an interactive, innovative and collaborative learning environment that makes people desire to continue learning and set themselves up for future success.
Ultimately, education technology is no longer a “nice to have” – it is critical to the success of all students throughout their education. Considering this, a focus on professional development is in critical.
Elaine Shuck is the director of education at Polycom, a multinational corporation that develops video, voice and content collaboration and communication technology.