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Interview of the week

Internet as teacher support 

 alan.jpg
Interview with Alan Pritchard, author of
Effective Teaching With Internet Technologies
( www.sagepublications.com)
by
D. Murali
G. Padmanaban (Business Line)
 “If you get it right it’s amazing how the children respond… even those who you wouldn’t expect it from can surprise you with what they do… what they end up producing and what they learn,” reads a teacher’s quote that Alan cites in his book.He says that the level of motivation in the class can be higher when the communication capabilities of the Net are used, especially if the communication is synchronous — happening in real time.For example, Alan mentions, in a ‘video-conferenced language learning’ case study reported in the book, that the teacher found the students to be ‘more attentive than usual and sustained attention for longer than she would have predicted.’Another project found that the receiving of messages by e-mail, even the anticipation, unleashed excitement. A little surprising, says Alan, because a number of children involved in the exercise had e-mail accounts of their own; “even those claiming to be regular users of e-mail and chat were clearly enthused by the use of e-mail in the context of the recipe exchange example.”It was with a similar eagerness, perhaps, that we recently waited for Alan to respond over the e-mail to our questions. And the wait proved worthwhile…

Excerpts from the interview.

First, what is ‘Internet teaching’?

‘Internet teaching’ refers to the use of the range of resources (information and activity) that the Internet can provide. These resources are used to improve and enhance the learning experience of the pupils in question and to support the teacher in his/her work.

Why is it required? What role can the Internet play in transforming the traditional classroom way of teaching?

Internet teaching is not necessarily ‘required’, but it has the potential to improve effective learning, which is the aim of all educational endeavour. (This notion requires a shared understanding of what effective teaching is. There is a range of definitions, but generally it is teaching that leads to lasting understanding alongside the build-up of knowledge. The ability to use new understanding and knowledge in new and different situations is also an important effect of effective learning.)

The role of the Internet in transforming (your word) the traditional classroom could be by the provision of information and high-quality educational activity that might not ordinarily (i.e. without recourse to the Internet) be available.

How effective is the Internet as a teaching medium?

I actually see the Internet as a support to teaching and learning, not actually a medium in its own right. It can be extremely effective in the context of well-planned teaching and learning contexts overseen by a teacher.

Can the Internet replace teachers?

To clear up any possible misconceptions, my research, and my book do not focus on the use of the Internet as a highly ‘state of the art’, responsive, and fully interactive entity, or as an alternative to a teacher teaching a class of pupils. I am not looking at, or advocating, the Internet as a replacement for teachers, a teaching machine, or anything of that nature.

In all the case studies discussed in the book, the role of the teacher is central, and the importance of social interaction is sought out as a strategy to be encouraged by the teachers involved.

You will see that my book and my research are more concerned with learning, teaching and then the Internet, in that order. I consider myself as a researcher and partial expert in children’s learning, and almost all of my work in this field is in the context of new technologies generally and the Internet in particular.

What challenges are faced when adopting Internet technologies for teaching?

Access will be a problem in many contexts (not too much of a problem in the UK).

Teacher confidence and understanding of the potential of the Internet to encourage effective learning.

Can Internet teaching be integrated with the television medium and taken to places where there is no access to the Internet?

This sounds like a reasonable supposition. Television can supply information, but interactivity and activity cannot be so well developed as it can be via the Internet. The use of teletext type access has potential.

Is infrastructure cost to enable Internet technology in teaching very high? How can this be addressed, especially in developing countries?

In the UK this is no longer a problem for schools; the infrastructure exists and more than 99 per cent of schools have Internet access of one kind or another. I am not really an expert in the area of costs and accessibility, but I know that it can be a problem in developing countries. In time, access will become easier and cheaper I am sure.

Would it be useful to integrate multimedia educational package with Internet technology in classrooms?

I am not really sure what you mean here, but I suspect that the answer is “Yes”.

What are your suggestions to make Internet teaching effective?

Plan for children’s learning first and then see where the Internet can offer support. Teaching and learning must be led by the learning needs of the children, not by what technology is available.

Once learning outcomes have been decided upon it is then possible to consider if there is an Internet/technology mediated approach to achieve the outcomes.

It could well be that there is an Internet approach but that this approach is inferior to a more traditional approach which does not rely on technology, in which case it should not be used.

Is there any area of study where you think teaching with the help of the Internet may not be effective?

Not really. If a technological approach can lead to effective learning it should be used where possible.

Even subjects like physical education have the potential to be enhanced with the use of certain software tools — spreadsheets for comparing results or training improvement; digital video for movement analysis, etc.

However, there are strong constructivist arguments for real first-hand experience. When studying pond life, one should visit a pond, not rely on a computer simulation (a simulation could be useful to extend understanding though).

How should teachers be trained, or what are the new skills they should acquire, to use Internet technology in their teaching?

This is very important. Teachers need up-to-date understanding of the potential of new technologies, including the Internet. They do not need to be cyber experts, but they need confidence and understanding. This can take time for practice, familiarisation and reflection. Time is often at a premium in education and training — it is costly too. More important is that they understand how children learn and are able to provide learning contexts which will allow children to learn — this may include Internet use in some cases.

About your research…

I have researched the ways that teachers use the Internet and compared what they have done with what is currently considered important in teaching and learning situations. I have used the constructivist paradigm (learning proceeds by building on to what is already known, or understood, and is supported by social interaction at many different levels, and so on), and I have looked to schema theory to support the propositions of constructivism.

In my book I have presented a series of case studies of Internet use in mainstream (i.e. not out of the ordinary) classroom situations and I have compared what I have observed with the best precepts of constructivist teaching and learning. I present a framework for assessing the activity of the teachers and the pupils and make analytical and critical comments according to the way that the teaching and learning matches up to the framework.

Alan Pritchard is an Associate Professor, and member of the Centre for New Technologies Research and Education (CeNTRE), at the Warwick Institute of Education, University of Warwick (www2.warwick.ac.uk), where he teaches a range of courses for undergraduates and post-graduates, as well as teaching on the Institute’s higher degree and in-service programmes. He is a full member of the Higher Education Academy.

Previously he has been a primary school teacher, an Advisory Teacher, and Deputy Head of a Middle School. He has undertaken research and published articles in the academic press with particular reference to learning and the use of new technology. He writes widely for professional journals and magazines for teachers. His books include Education.com: an introduction to learning, teaching and ICT (2000), Using ICT in Primary Mathematics Teaching (2002), Learning on the Net (2004), Ways of Learning (2005), and most recently, Effective Teaching with Internet Technologies: pedagogy and practice (2007).

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