Educators need to overcome their fears and keep on using the wondrous digital technology applications which were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis to fix a problem, says Totty Aris, head of Verdala International School, Pembroke.

2020 is the year that education had to undertake a paradigm shift from traditional classroom approaches to teaching via the internet. For many teachers across the world, their roles dramatically changed from one they were accustomed to and felt in control of, to one that needed fine-tuned tech skills.

It is not surprising that educationalists found this a challenge. Although many have embraced technology at their own pace, most are commonly known as ‘digital immigrants’.

The Cambridge Dictionary says: “People aged 30 or older are digital immigrants because they can never be as fluent in technology as a native who was born into it.” In other words, those who have grown up always knowing technology are going to be far more adept than those who have to be shown how to do it.

When we moved to online learning, we were forced out of the classroom to become cyberspace teachers; we were expected to navigate a different teaching environment and engage students using an alternative toolkit.

The difference in success was defined by the teachers’ adaptation to this new system. Many of the digital immigrants required training before they would even consider running a Zoom lesson.

The first virtual day was full of frustrations, security fears and disrupted lessons. Ironically, the students, being digital natives, were in their element as they quickly set up their own peer group Zooms, as they were introduced to a fun new forum. Indeed, it was the younger, newly trained teachers, themselves digital natives, who were the ones who embraced this change and became the leaders and role-models of Edtech.

Our digital natives are comfortable simply clicking and searching; we forget that as avid internet explorers, they are working as natural inquirers in the process. As educators, rather than fighting change, we need to develop the inherent skills of the digital natives and ensure they are well-versed in digital citizenship to keep them safe and focused.

Technology is the way forward in enhancing teaching and offering more resources

This difference was recently evident at Verdala International School when the High School students wanted to highlight school events on an Instagram account.

Initially, we were against the idea; there were too many red flags regarding safety, trolling and so forth. It was the Student Council that found a way to work around the problem; it knew this was a more Gen-Z way to communicate among their peers and so persevered in finding solutions that allowed it to happen safely. Now we have a closed Instagram account that promotes school spirit and is more fitting for our digital natives.

Our fears may impede us from moving our educational tools further into the unknown, and using applications that could increase teacher efficiency and strengthen bonds with our students. These tools can aid the task at hand, and technology is the way forward in enhancing teaching and offering more resources.

2020 has exposed our educators to new ways of teaching; to synchronous (teaching students in real time) and asynchronous learning (students learning in their own time utilising video instruction, research and so on). New software, such as applications to run online exams in a secure online environment, allows home learners to be assessed throughout the year.

In the primary education sector, the move to an online platform has revolutionised our teaching environment as pupils create digital portfolios of their learning journey, proudly shared with their parents; this is far more suitable for a child growing up as a digital native.

We often talk about 21st century teaching and learning while holding on to the traditions of the past; teacher-centred lessons are being replaced by meaningful lines of inquiry and concept-teaching that makes students think and apply knowledge.

Our VIS Tech Vision recognises the numerous benefits of technology, particularly for the need for it to be “seamlessly integrated across all aspects of our daily lives”. In order for this to happen, we as digital immigrant educators need to overcome our fears and keep using these wondrous applications that were implemented during a crisis to fix a problem, and should now become the norm in the adapted 21st century classroom.

As we move from controllers to facilitators, we are able to appreciate the digital skill set of our students, as they are the explorers who will naturally be innovative in directing their learning journey.

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