How does the teaching of Latin change in a school that has a Bring Your Own Device policy or has a programme of giving devices to staff and pupils (known as a one-to-one or 1:1 programme)?
Evolution of tech in teaching
The introduction of digital technologies with our schools is surely one of the most dramatic and costly changes in education since the Education Act of 1944. The older generation of teachers have witnessed blackboards replaced by whiteboards, whiteboards replaced by interactive whiteboards, these replaced by projectors (or in some cases back to the ordinary whiteboards). Televisions and video players have been replaced by desktop computers which in turn are being superseded by tablet devices. The school register is rarely taken on paper any more as a host of companies compete to provide the most popular school Management Information System. Schools have invested heavily in computers and similar equipment over the last few decades. In 2015 the technology consultancy firm Gartner estimated that schools in the United Kingdom had spent more than £900 million on digital technologies (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34174796). Many would question how effectively this money has been spent. Is digital technology – iPads, laptops, pcs, Chromebooks, SmartBoards (and we could go on…) – worth the cost?
Investment in money
Over the last five years some schools have introduced one-to-one programmes for pupils and staff, supplying everyone with their own device for use in lessons and beyond. The cost of such a programme can be eye-wateringly expensive and is often relayed back to parents by charging a set fee per month over the course of three to five years. Another approach has been to implement a bring your own device policy (BYOD) for students. Such a policy reduces school expenditure considerably by placing the burden of the cost squarely upon the parent. Nonetheless this approach is fraught with problems: it can be very difficult to get different types of device to play together nicely; an app that works well on an iPad may not work on an Android device and may not exist for a Surface Pro. Both schemes introduce the onus of expectation that children will be using these devices regularly to justify the considerable cost of the purchase. Some schools have been very successful in launching such schemes and have transformed the very nature of teaching and learning in their daily lives. However such programmes do still meet with understandable suspicion and concern from many teachers and parents.
The education director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Andreas Schleicher caused a bit of a stir a few years ago when he revealed findings that ‘Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance… [that] frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34174796). This assessment of digital technology in education appears quite damning and seems to suggest that schools have wasted a considerable amount of money and time by investing in ICT to such a degree. This is in addition to the considerable anecdotal evidence of students continually misusing and abusing technology – from sending text messages in lessons, to taking inappropriate pictures to cyber bullying – surely this is all just too much effort? Aren’t we all just better off by leaving computers in the ICT room and letting kids use their mobiles and tablets at home? Teachers don’t know how to use technology so why should they be expected to police its usage? Surely these 1:1/BYOD ideas have just been parachuted in on a reluctant and unprepared staff? How can any of this benefit teachers of Latin?
ICT effectively incorporated into lessons can transform teaching and learning. However, digital technology is not a magic wand – it can’t make bad teaching good. It can only serve to enhance current good practice. The criticisms made in the OECD report mentioned above considered mostly the “blind” use of ICT, the introduction of digital technologies into schools without thinking about incorporating them into strategies or pedagogues. If you just dump a set of tablets into a school without any extensive preparations or training of staff then obviously the technology will remain unused. Even with continuous and thorough training there is still the risk that teachers can’t see the benefits of incorporating digital devices into planning, teaching and learning. Sometimes it can take considerable effort just to see the wood for the trees. Staff need to be confident in using the new technology and this itself can take some considerable time.
The way forward?
This, I am aware, is part of the educational environment into which CyberCaesar is attempting to inveigle itself in the Latin classroom of today. Whilst there is a considerable number of Classics teachers that are highly adept at using computers and other digital devices in their lessons, there are many who are unfamiliar with utilising this technology in their approach to teaching and learning. There are many who will be highly suspicious of ‘the next big thing’, who have been told in the past to use the new whiteboard/computer suite/VLE/iPads/Chromebooks (and I’m sure that there are more), who have had a few hours’ training at best and then told to use them effectively. I know how delighted you can feel when the stuff stops working, when the momentum gives out and when you can just go back to normal and start teaching your subject again.
I have every sympathy with this. Any initiative can be subject to all sorts of false starts and empty dawns. And I know that many teachers will be highly suspicious of CyberCaesar because it’s all on computer and “I don’t teach that way.” But try it. Give it a go. The course genuinely can transform learning. CyberCaesar doesn’t just make the subject more accessible for students, it also eases the burden on teachers. The exercises mark themselves and provide immediate feedback to pupils. Compare that to the traditional model of pupils translating some Latin, submitting it to the teacher and the end of the lesson, who schedules time to mark the work between marking coursework essays, attending parents’ evenings and writing reports, eventually marking the work (perhaps just before the lesson), annotating it carefully before returning it to the student who within a week has entirely forgotten what they have been doing.
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and CyberCaesar makes the life of a Latin teacher much easier, freeing up time to concentrate on explaining aspects of Latin, enthusing pupils about the grandeur of the ancient world and coaching pupils through their linguistic studies. The role of the teacher in a CyberCaesar classroom is very much that of a mentor, to guide and direct the student to an improved appreciation of their abilities through interpreting their work. In many ways the burden of the mechanics of assessment is outsourced to CyberCaesar, empowering the teacher to concentrate on improving learning and understanding of the subject.
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