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shutterstock_137021270An essen­tial skill taught when I atten­ded teach­ers’ col­lege as a train­ee in the 1970s was how to thread a pro­ject­or. In those sim­pler days, show­ing a film to a class was cut­ting edge. Con­sid­er­able organ­isa­tion was required and time spent either mov­ing stu­dents to a des­ig­nated film room or out of school, on a ‘field trip’, to the loc­al cinema. Back then, teach­er handouts were hand­writ­ten or typed onto Banda paper and cop­ies run off on the spir­it duplic­at­or, the indelible purple ink stain­ing hands and ruin­ing clothes. This was the extent of the use of tech­no­logy in classroom practice.

But times have changed and early last year, the gov­ern­ment recog­nized this by pro­mot­ing advoc­ate for digit­al learn­ing, Nikki Kaye, to Asso­ci­ate Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter. Fol­low­ing the appoint­ment Kaye announced the estab­lish­ment of a 21st-cen­tury learn­ing ref­er­ence group, to provide expert advice on mod­ern learn­ing envir­on­ments and digit­al lit­er­acy in schools. The group includes Tim Cope­land, a dir­ect­or and one of three founders of Wel­ling­ton-based Inter­net ser­vices com­pany SilverStripe.

The gov­ern­ment has aimed for all schools in New Zea­l­and to have increased access to digit­al learn­ing oppor­tun­it­ies — 97.7 per­cent of schools will have fibre con­nec­tions, and the most remote schools (2.3 per­cent) will have wire­less or satel­lite con­nec­tions by 2016. Net­work for Learn­ing (N4L) will provide con­nectiv­ity and Inter­net ser­vices for schools. This will enable changes sig­nalled in April at the Sec­ond­ary Prin­cipals’ Asso­ci­ation of New Zea­l­and Con­fer­ence by New Zea­l­and Qual­i­fic­a­tions Author­ity chief exec­ut­ive, Kar­en Poutasi, with the move away from con­ven­tion­al writ­ten exam­in­a­tions to online and on-demand assessment.

With both teach­ers and stu­dents mobile and con­nec­ted, it is an exhil­ar­at­ing time to be in edu­ca­tion. Take second-lan­guage learn­ing for example. Through the reach of the Inter­net there is a wealth of online con­tent in tar­get lan­guages. e‑pals can be Skyped and online dic­tion­ar­ies and pro­grammes such as Lan­guage Per­fect accessed, where stu­dents can pit them­selves against oth­ers from over 25 coun­tries across the world.

In oth­er areas of the cur­riculum, stu­dents go on vir­tu­al field trips to Stone­henge or ‘walk’, vir­tu­ally, around the Sis­tine Chapel. Some courses are now delivered online using video con­fer­en­cing. The pro­vider might be in New Zea­l­and or on the oth­er side of the world. At my col­lege (Queen Margaret’s), stu­dents can take an online course delivered by an edu­ca­tion firm, Pamoja, based in Oxford, UK, and con­trac­ted by the Inter­na­tion­al Bac­ca­laur­eate Organ­iz­a­tion, whose main office is in The Hague.

            In the past it was deemed an essen­tial skill for a teach­er to thread the film pro­ject­or. Today, it is essen­tial that all teach­ers embrace the new digit­al tech­no­lo­gies and weave these appro­pri­ately into their classroom prac­tice. The rich­ness of exper­i­ences afforded by the digit­al envir­on­ment adds new, before now unima­gined, dimen­sions to how, when and where our young people learn.

            At the same time, stu­dents must learn to be cyber­safe. This is the joint respons­ib­il­ity of school and par­ent. School net­works are now pro­tec­ted by fire­walls and can fil­ter and block web­sites. How­ever, at inter­val or lunch a student’s mobile phone allows them to step into a much lar­ger vir­tu­al play­ground away from school net­works. It is import­ant we teach them how to use the Inter­net with pur­pose. Par­ents can find inform­a­tion on digit­al cit­izen­ship at .The site is full of great tips to keep your child safe online.

Today’s edu­ca­tion­al tech­no­logy is light years away from the film projector.

Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.

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