Technology is a divisive subject. Its influence over life in the 21st century raises important questions that have significant implications for education. At one end of the spectrum, techno-enthusiasts are quick to embrace the latest tools while defending the vital role that technology plays in our lives. At the other end of the spectrum, techno-dissenters will highlight the disadvantages of technology, approaching its use with caution. One thing that we can all agree on is that new technologies bring both advantages and disadvantages, and they are here to stay.
History has taught us that, with every new wave of technology, there have been fears over its impact on society. When Gutenberg introduced the printing press in the 15th century, there was widespread fear that writing by hand would be banished to the annals of history. When novels were first written and printed for the mass market, the church lamented the loss of religious readings and questioned the need to read non-religious texts. When blackboards were introduced in schools at the beginning of the 19th Century, it was feared that students would have reduced contact with their teachers as they would have their backs turned to the class. In all of these cases, the overwhelming advantages presented by new forms of technology led to their rapid and sweeping integration within education. Looking at these examples, we can draw many interesting parallels with the role of new technologies in education today.
What is clear is that new technologies present huge potential for student learning. Research from the past decade has shown that the effective integration of technology in the learning process can not only enhance literacy development, but also provide greater access to information and encourage student-centred instructional approaches, as well as increase student motivation and self-esteem. Digital tools allow access to a wider range of multimedia teaching resources in the form of images, video, audio files and web pages which can also be shared more easily. There are now hundreds of different ways to explain complex concepts to students. Information and data are often more recent and relevant than any that might be found in printed class textbooks. Mobile devices are in their very nature designed to improve communication and access to information, goals which are clearly aligned with those of education.
Recognising this potential for learning, Collège Champittet in Lausanne took the decision to provide continuous access to technology, becoming the first school in Canton Vaud to provide mobile devices to all of its students and teachers. In the summer of 2013, each student from Year 4 to Year 14; as well as over 120 teaching staff at its campuses in Pully and Nyon, were provided with a personal iPad to support and enhance learning. As well as giving access to the world’s largest source of knowledge, the Internet, the focus of the 1:1 iPad initiative at College Champittet has aimed to provide tools and resources to the 21st century learner, making learning more engaging, personalised and efficient.
Before the empty iPad boxes had even been cleared away, the impacts were immediately visible in the classrooms and corridors of our school. Groups of students could be seen huddled around their devices working on class projects: learning had immediately become less formalised and restricted by the walls of the classroom.
Effective technology integration increases student motivation and engagement. When students are motivated to learn and engaged with educational content there are significant improvements for learning. Perfecting a video report on the problems of urbanisation in the developing world, for example, requires students to complete multiple review and revision cycles, exposing them more frequently to learning material, which is a key factor in knowledge acquisition. Technology tools therefore offer new opportunities for learning which were previously inconceivable.
Technology tools also allow greater collaboration and extend learning beyond the classroom. Classroom walls become less significant in the technology-enabled classroom as students can meet online, share files, images and documents more easily. Students can no longer use the excuse that their project is not finished because John is still on holiday or has returned to his home country. Students have the tools at their disposal to address issues such as these from different sides of the planet.
A Swiss school open to the world, Collège Champittet has a strong heritage and reputation for academic excellence spanning over 112 years. Located on the banks of Lac Leman, its leafy campus welcomes day students from local and international families, as well as providing a home to 90 international boarding students from over 30 different countries. Offering the International Baccalaureate, Swiss Maturity and French Bac, Collège Champittet offers a bilingual approach to education that draws upon the strengths of a wide and diverse range of pedagogical experience and cultural diversity among its students and staff. However, the transition to a 1:1 school has not been without its challenges.
Providing students with continuous access to technology raises important questions concerning the role of the teacher. With instant access to an almost limitless source of information, can teachers continue to be viewed as masters of knowledge? At the turn of the century it would take one hundred years to double the collective total of human knowledge. Today, it has been estimated that the same doubling of human knowledge occurs every twelve months. Ninety percent of all online content has been created within the last two years. In light of this, it is increasingly difficult to be a master of knowledge in our respective subjects, however, the role of the teacher has never been more important to student learning in technology-enabled classrooms.
Michael Fullan, a Canadian educational researcher, once said that “the more powerful technology becomes, the more indispensable good teachers are.” Indeed, technology immersion does not diminish the role of the teacher, to the contrary, it transforms the teacher from a director of learning to a facilitator of learning. Mobile technologies lend themselves to socio-constructivist instructional approaches. These approaches, introduced and developed by the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky during the 20th Century, focus on the development of higher order cognitive function in children through practical activities in a social environment. The availability of technology tools enables students to participate in technology-supported collaborative learning, providing them with the opportunity to practise and develop skills in communication, knowledge sharing, critical thinking, evaluation and use of modern technologies, all vital 21st century skills commonly found in the modern workplace.
Now in its third year since becoming a 1:1 school, students and staff at Collège Champittet have evolved to live, work and learn in an environment and school system where, traditionally, technology was not available. The constantly evolving nature of new technologies forces us to reflect on our practice to find different ways of leveraging its potential for the benefit of our students’ learning. The key is finding the correct balance, ensuring that technology is employed only when it offers pedagogical added value. As educators we must be aware of and act upon the advantages when they are presented to us, while simultaneously managing the inevitable challenges that arise with such a paradigm shift.
You would be forgiven for assuming that in a 1:1 school students and staff are constantly glued to screens. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The creation of effective learning opportunities demands the application of a diverse range of instructional strategies, both teacher and student-centred, while at the same time ensuring access to both traditional and modern tools.
As with all forms of modern technology in society, providing our students and teachers continual access in the form of personal devices has brought out the best in us, as well as highlighting our areas for development. With these in sight, students and teachers at Collège Champittet are in a better position to move towards the same goal that has united us for over a century: the provision of high quality education and academic excellence.
The cognitive processes of learning remain much the same as when Collège Champittet first opened its doors in 1903, however, the tools available to us for achieving these goals have changed considerably. It is therefore imperative that as educators we provide the students of today with the necessary tools to prepare them as globally-minded citizens for life and work in the rapidly evolving, interconnected world of tomorrow.
Matthew Roberts is a teacher of IB Geography and Secondary Technology for Learning Coordinator at Collège Champittet in Lausanne, Switzerland.
For more information about Collège Champittet and their Technology for Learning programme, please consult the following websites:
School Site: www.champittet.ch
Technology for Learning Site: www.champitech.ch