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School days aren't what they used to be

School days aren't what they used to be

Some say our time at school represents the best days of our lives. I did have some good experiences in and out of the classroom, that’s for sure. But I was far from convinced at the time that these were my best days (and nothing’s changed to make me think any differently). In fact, some of it was downright dull and boring.

I wouldn’t want to do it all again ... but what I wouldn’t have given for being able to use some of the tech wizardry available to the spotty youth of today.

I’ve just come back from an IT conference for teachers in Rotorua. I’m always up for a trip and I can highly recommend the location. Après conference aside, however, it was quite an eye-opener, especially if, like me, the colour of the board in your classroom was black and the closest thing to multimedia was coloured chalk and a tape machine. I’m not that old, but some of the stuff on display was incredible.

Interactive whiteboards, for example, are amazing pieces of equipment. I was given the guided tour by a couple of vendors. Forget the word board … and bored. They’re an enormous touch-screen window into the internet, accessing all sorts of sites and tools, playing video, and showing maps and graphics. Kids can even take part in interactive votes – through little keypads they have at their desk. I particularly liked the way these things are increasingly being used flat, as a table top, with the class sat around it.

As an adult with relatively big fingers and failing eyesight, I’ve never really given netbooks much of a second thought. But in the hands of little people, these things really come into their own. They’re actually nifty little things, with quite a bit of tech-bite to them. They work for kids and schools because they’re small, portable and, of course, cheap.

Digital imaging is big, especially cameras and camcorders. Imagine illustrating essays with photos and even video. I watched a seminar that showed how YouTube can be used in class. I followed another workshop actually on Twitter. The whole thing was presented in tweets. Again, showing alternatives for teaching and learning.

Naturally, I spent some time at the Lego stand. The programmable robots are pretty cool, but even they seemed a little passé compared to space shuttle simulators, satellite imaging, real-time video conferencing, podcasting, TV stations and all the other things going on.

It’s often said that classrooms are little different from those 100 years ago. Mine wasn’t (in fact, I think was probably in a building from the 19th century). However, those schools that are embracing technology today sound like inspiring places.

Maybe not inspiring enough to make me want to do it all again. But with a grounding in these sorts of tools and ideas and opportunities, I can only imagine what some of these kids will be doing and achieving in a few years’ time.


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