Almost every aspect of modern life has been enhanced thanks to technology. We now read books on Kindle, do our banking by phone and arrange our weekly shop over the internet. That said, most of the world’s education systems have remained the same for the past 20 years – including those here in Dubai. But according to local A-level literature teacher Rohan Roberts, organiser of this week’s TEDxWinchester talk on Saturday November 17, there are ‘pockets’ of innovation throughout the city. These pockets are setting examples in the classroom that he believes desperately need to be followed.
‘Things are changing, but that change needs to be much more widespread and far more radical. There have been rapid advances in genetics, nanotechnology, robotics, computing and neuroscience, and given the rate at which all these things are progressing, we have to start teaching differently,’ he explains.
Roberts is the first to admit his views are ‘controversial’, particularly when it comes to his views on doing away with standardised testing, which he believes should be ‘obliterated’ in favour of a focus on creativity and new ideas. But it’s hard to disagree with his arguments for change in teaching methods.
‘Very few teachers are aware of what apps on smartphones can do. And it’s not just them – it’s parents too. What they don’t realise is that the smartphone we hold in our hand is now a million times smaller, a million times faster and a thousand times more powerful than the supercomputers the Pentagon had just 30 years ago, which were the size of a building and cost US$16 million.’
And for Roberts, it’s not just about getting up to speed with today’s technology – it’s also about anticipating developments that will no doubt come our way in a very short space of time. ‘How will things be different in another five years, let alone 15? We need to address what we, as educators, need to do differently to prepare students for a new and different future, because the old skills are out, and we’re not preparing them for what’s to come.’
In the past five years, school inspections have seen a focus placed on what Roberts describes as ‘active learning’, where lecturing from teachers takes a back seat to students participating in classroom activities. ‘There is also a concept called “flip classroom” – it’s the new buzzword in education, and it has some real merit,’ he explains. It seems a lot like reverse homework: the idea is that kids watch educational videos at home on YouTube that have been created by their teachers, and arrive in class ready for an in-depth discussion. The result is what Roberts calls ‘a much more productive use of classroom time’.
At The Winchester School in Dubai, there has been a move towards using online tools such as Edmodo, which Roberts explains is like ‘a secure Facebook’: students can upload their assignments to be marked by teachers, and also be viewed by their parents. In his literature classes, Roberts encourages students to create animations and podcasts and stream videos as part of their projects.
‘All these exam boards are focused on testing students on information and facts, and that’s primitive now. Anyone can find information, anybody can use Google – that’s not what makes one person different from another. We should be testing their creativity, giving them opportunities to create new things, new ideas, new pieces of art, poetry – this is what matters. Memorising textbooks is boring. Today, our smartphones and laptops are like an external cortex – we are outsourcing our cognition to these devices. We don’t need to store information in our brains any more.’
For anyone curious about the future, the TEDxWinchesterTeachers conference on Saturday November 17 is set to be a fascinating afternoon of discussion. If you can’t make it there in person, the event and all talks will (fittingly) be streamed live on the web.
Register for a seat or watch the event live at www.tedxwinchesterschool.com. Entry is free, but spaces are limited. 1.30pm-4.30pm, November 17. The Winchester School, Jebel Ali Gardens (055 993 1859).
Technology in the classroom
About 13,000 students at UAE universities will benefit from the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Smart Learning, which sees iPads being distributed to students in the foundation stages at Zayed University, Emirates University and the Higher Colleges of Technology.
Recent developments have seen some schools in the country ditch old-fashion chalkboards in favour of interactive flat screens. Lessons are projected from the teacher’s laptop onto the screen, allowing them to use a variety of tools, including videos, much more easily.
In Florida, one school district aims to become an example of utilising technology in classrooms, with plans to develop programmes that allow students to participate in lectures while at home, and even collaborate on projects with students in other countries.