Sunday, October 22, 2006

Technology has created an impact on the way we teach and learn

{This is contextualised based on my perception @ NIE Paro one-and-a-half years ago}

Let’s ask ourselves the following:
Has technology created an impact in the way we live and the way we behave? We all agree that technology has caused tremendous changes to almost everything!

Let’s refine the question slightly:
Has technology created a positive impact in the way we live and the way we behave? Now, I guess it’s a “yes” and “no” answer.

Technology has opened up our minds to know the once unknown. Technology has provided us the convenience that we once could not imagine. Technology has closed the gaps between people.

On the other hand, do we realise that we have also taken for granted what it offers? We have become more dependent on technology. We can become quite helpless in the sudden absence of technology. For example, how many of us will think our FIT or EIT lesson will take place if there is a blackout in the campus?

For today, we will take a look at the impact of technology on matters close to us, that is teaching and learning?

Compare the days when we were in primary schools and now at the higher institution.

Let’s revisit our primary school days:
· What technology did our teachers use? Chalk and Board.
· What did we learn with? Paper and pencil. Concrete manipulatives such as paper cut-outs.
· The learning environment has changed, too. In the past, the playground, the garden or the forest were our classroom.

With technology, computer lab has become the learning environment where we look forward to have classes, the one where we “see” the world without having to step out of the classroom! It is free and it saves us the time to travel! The world has become “smaller” and more accessible!

With technology, the content we learn has changed. We are no longer confined to information communicated by our teachers, illustrated in the books. We hear news from the radio. We watched the latest development of technology through documentaries from the TVs. We seek information from the Internet!

The Internet provides a vast pool of information, so much so that sometimes we are overwhelmed because we simply do not know how to go about finding it! We require new skills to know how to compress loads of information into something concise and useful. We also have to decipher what’s presented is truth or otherwise. Learning has become an even more complex business!

How has technology improved the way we learn? Here are some illustrations:

The use of digital resources
o CD ROMs carry lots of information – exceeding volumes of books. Imagine a full set of encyclopaedia can be shrunk into a single CD ROM! In subject-based CD ROMs, it often comes with a self-check mechanism where pupils will get immediate feedback when they key in their answers to the questions, which I think all of us agree no teacher give equal attention to a class of learners learning at their own pace.
o In subjects like science, we all know that it is dangerous to carry out experiments to compare the reaction between active metals with water. One famous experiment is the reaction between sodium and water, which is highly explosive. With CD ROMs, it is no longer a risk or hassle to ‘demonstrate’ such experiments for pupils to observe what is impossible in the normal science lab.

The use of the Internet
o We learn from the internet things that textbooks do not tell because the prints have space limitation. Moreover, the information is current and we are kept up-to-date with the world. Imagine, without the internet, how many of us now aware that “Pluto is no longer a planet” but a “dwarf planet” now? It will take months and even years for such news to cross the seas and mountains.

The use of digital manipulatives
o These digital objects provide illustrations that we cannot possible do in a conventional classroom. It generates numerous examples to help reinforce concepts and skills. Digital manipulatives also enable us to deploy other strategies to engage pupils to learn differently, such as through discovery.

For example, in a conventional classroom, how is the “Area of a Triangle” introduced? The norm is to illustrate how it is derived from the area of a rectangle. This illustration only shows that it is true for right-angled triangles. How about any non-right-angled triangles? That is when technology makes the difference. With an applet (one kind of digital manipulatives), pupils can test if the formula is true for all types of triangles! This is something we cannot offer with a chalk board.

When teaching subtraction, with the help of an applet, pupils can visualise how one bar representing ten units can be ungrouped when is shifted from the ten place value to the unit place value, how the positive and negative numbers ‘cancel’ off each other. This is probably something we cannot demonstrate effectively by chalk and talk.

The use of audio and video clips
o The recording and audio features can be employed to enhance the learning of languages!
To improve reading skills (eg. the pronunciation of words and the emotion to bring out the context), pupils can have their reading recorded so that they can review their own reading skills and get feedback from their peers and teacher.

The above have clearly illustrated how technology value-adds to the current classroom practices. So, does that mean we are going to abandon the good old ways of teaching and learning? Or will technology eventually replace teachers?

The answer is “no” to an ‘extreme’ transformation.

The important point is we have to recognise the technology can do and how we can best harness it to improve the current practices. It should not be a replacement or substitute.

Imagine the day comes when we learn the different forms of landscape from the images and video clips and do science experiments through the virtual science labs in the CD ROM and the internet. Do you think we can apply what is acquired effectively in the real world?

Let’s draw the analogy: It’s like we watch videos and read books to learn to swim without going to the pool, are we able to swim?

Technology cannot replace the nature, the real experience. We need someone who scaffold the learning, to guide the thoughts while technology widens our horizon, enriches our experience and present unlimited possibilities to us, in a safe environment.

Because of technology, because of the internet, people from all over the world are connected. In the old times, we depend on postman to deliver our greetings, to communicate to people miles away. What happens today? At a click, our message goes around the globe in seconds!

With technology invasion, do we notice any changes to our behaviour?

Look around, how many of us possess a mobile phone? How many of us have an email account? How many of us have a television set or radio at home? We are surrounded by technology.

While using technology, our behaviour, our beliefs and our values have evolved too. How? Let’s bring ourselves back to our familiar environment, at this campus. Let us to ponder over the following…

· The computer lab is where the brain juices flow. Technology helps to gather ideas and put our thoughts together for our assignments. With the internet, our resources have become richer. We download images that are relevant. At times, we cannot resist but adopted well-structured phrases and paragraphs from the webpages and put them into our write-ups. Have we taken others’ effort for granted? Has it crossed our minds that we are doing the right thing?

· How often do we really spend constructive time in front of the terminal? Have we shifted our priorities because of the mere attraction of technology? Are there times that we are lost in cyber surfing and wonder away from the original intent of going into the internet to do some important research?

· How disappointed we are when there is no free terminal in the computer lab? How we reserve the terminals – through our friends? So, the first come first serve rule does not always apply here.

· How affected we are when our work is wiped out by the system? Curse and swear? What do we do when our friends offer to let us copy their document? We thank technology that enables us to modify the work with a word processing easily! On the other hand, do we realise that technology has tested what we hold dear? Our values. Our beliefs.

Technology has definitely changed the way we perceive things and get things done – for the better or the worse. Drawing from the good old saying, “Fire can be a good slave, but a bad master”. Similarly, technology does wonders when managed well. However, it is capable of drawing out the worst of us if it takes over the command.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Thank You" for giving up the seat

It's the first time, or I really can't remember when was the last time that I receive a "Thank You" when gave up a seat to someone in need in the MRT or the bus.

It's a pleasant surprise that today, the young mother said a sincere "thank you" when gave up the seat to her and her little daughter. Indeed, realised that she was trying to look out for a seat for me, in appreciation... and before she alighted, she signalled "returning the seat"... it's rare to find this kind of people around... isn't it? Often, we see people who received the seat would simply throw their bump onto the seat... some even without a 'cold' thank you...

OK, story has not ended here... remember the young mother leaving the train? Guess what? The moment she left her seat, a middle age man acted very swiftly... lightning speed!!! and sat onto that seat! OK! See another non-gentleman species in Singapore!

Well, another seat in front was vacant then... a young lady moved fast towards it.... but had the courtesy to ask, "Would you like to sit?" OK, since you bother to ask, at least... OK, I'm willing to let you have the seat... to reciprocate your courtesy...

The Newspapers Distributor

Some time ago, I commented about people form long queues to wait for the free newspaper (Today) distribution.

Not long afterwhich, another newspapers, 我报... also come into the market as a free newspapers... of course, there's another long long queue each morning outside and at the MRT station.

What's wrong with queueing up for the newspapers? Nothing's wrong... As long as there's something free to be given out, certainly there'll be people who are willing to spend time queuing for it... it can be 5 minutes, or it can be half an hour! Ridiculous! isn't it? People are willing to spend up to 30 minutes to queue for the free newspapers?

The yet more ridiculous thing is yet mentioned: The newspapers distributors are very abide to the clock! What does that mean? It seems like the scheduled time to issue is 7.30 am... so, even when the papers are ready, and the distributors are already there... well, it's 7.30 am... to be fair?????