How we really teach with tech in 21st century classrooms

Summary:An irreverent guide to using technology in your class.

For the teacher who went out drinking on a school night, or has a severe coffee deficiency -- here are some tips for using technology and keeping the little 'ones' happy in class.

I've taught in a number of places and countries. From a typical, run-down west London high school, a VIP college in Azerbaijan, a private school in Rome, to a graffiti-covered basement 'classroom' in Austria. However, out of the 25 or so countries I have graced with my presence, I have found a universal rule useful in making lessons 'work' -- whether you've spent all night on a plan, or more likely have thought it up in five minutes on your cigarette break. (It's okay, I know.)

The golden rule is -- anything visual, audio, or remotely funny, students love you for it. Whoever you are teaching, from future shopkeepers to juvenile jailbirds, anything that makes a student watch but not think too hard will be popular. The ones that want to work will take something away from it, the ones that don't are at least occupied and not prolonging the mental torture of a particularly brutish class.

After all, what does it matter in the educational assembly line of babysitting and daily abuse? Would-be teachers barely have a chance to use their degree knowledge. If a teaching qualification suddenly offers hand-to-hand combat, crowd control methods, sexual counselling and how to attain the holy patience of a saint, I'm all ears. Keep them in class, keep them occupied. That's what we're paid for.

There are a number of tools that can make the world of education a little easier on the time-pressured and tired teacher. So, without further ado, here are your tips for getting away with the dreaded morning classes or coping with pupils who you harbor a suspicion of troll-descendancy:

Video clips

Ah, the DVD player. For the less fortunate, a dusty VCR which requires a monthly sacrificial goat and prayer in order to not chew up the only video of Romeo and Juliet your school owns.

How many times have you sat with your colleagues in the staff room and heard someone say, with a grunt, 'just show them a video'? There is wisdom in this. Listen to your older colleagues, mild smell of bourbon or not.

Don't just use this for one class, use it for all of them. Preferably on a Friday, as the pupils (as well as yourself) were no doubt up all night playing Skyrim or Halo, and can't be bothered anyway. In addition, make sure you get your own back on the educational system's monthly paperwork requirements that could sink a small ship, and sit at the back smugly writing while they are glued to the screen.

If a senior teacher catches on, make an emergency timetable shifting the class periods you show movies. Keep it unpredictable; victory is yours.

Mediocrity achieved -- go back to writing your shopping list.

Interactive white boards

You only use it for 'Powerpointlessness', and the school only installed them to impress parents who are paying thousands of pounds a year for education that would be free elsewhere. The school forgets, of course, that as they rarely show a teacher how to use a cassette player or VCR, it's unlikely they will know how to operate something more advanced.

Putting 'the cart before the horse' is common practice in schools -- buy the equipment but forget about the operator. Training workshops generally focus on the same, tired discussions of classroom setups (the horseshoe or traditional?) which make you want to bludgeon the too-enthusiastic speaker to death. We need to go over this again, but showing you how to use your shiny new board is not a priority for professional development.

Within days, some particularly obnoxious child will cover the board in permanent marker when you're on a break anyway, so it's best not to worry.

YouTube

While you let the swarm descend to find the exact video you simply can't find as a technologically-illiterate soul, steal the chance to pop down to the staff room (oh, I forgot extra paper) for a coffee and the chance to get away from the stink of teenage stale sweat and the rustle of smuggled crisp packets.

Class projects

I always let my students listen to music as they work on projects. It's amazing how even the class clown can be completely fixed on their work if they are equipped with a pair of headphones. Or, at the least, they remain present in body and don't attempt to flee the class on the pretext of yet another bathroom break.

Most teenagers love music, and the majority are familiar with software such as iTunes. Use this to your advantage. If they are physically present but not in spirit, you have the chance to turn a blind eye and carry on with reports or texting under your desk.

Now, let them get on with it, and only glance up if one of them is insistent on your presence. Drink coffee, pretend to mark papers when you are actually finishing off the paperwork you promised the principal you would hand in over a week ago, and wait for the clock to finally reach the exact contractual moment of escape.

After all, why not take a few liberties? You're 'overpaid part-timers with summers off' as it is.

Presentation software

Yes, we all hate innovation. More than that, making our own resources just takes up valuable time that is needed for paperwork deadlines that haunt us in our dreams more than the dull, repetitive pain of parents evening. However, consider the benefits. Consider updating your old transparencies to Powerpoint, or failing that, download some 'relevant' syllabus quizzes online.

A quiz can make an hour fly by -- and you can use it again and again. Make it lengthy, include some 'discussion questions', make the students guess and mark each other's work. An entire lesson can be crossed off the list this way. Even more so, you may be able to burn more time by getting the students to make up their own and save you having to do it yourself.

Naturally, its not exactly educational malpractice to use this method -- we're too busy to update our material anyway. Instead of clinging to yellowing lecture notes, just make sure your presentations are backed up on USB drives.

Just think of all the resentful looks you will receive in the staff room when the customary five-minutes-before-the-bell scramble to the photocopier hits. A queue of your colleagues fume and hiss at each other, on occasion the photocopier breaks down in rebellion, and you are sitting there smugly with a newspaper.

No need for photocopies -- make the students write everything down instead.

Work with the tech-gap. Feign ignorance. Burn time.

Considering the general 'tech-gap' between educators and children today, accepting that you don't know everything does have its benefits. There's no point hunching over a video player that belongs in a museum for 40 minutes, cursing under your breath as it chews up a tape -- ask one of your students to lend a hand.

If you're one of the lucky souls with access to a computer or interactive whiteboard in class, why not let them use it? If the students know of a good YouTube video that demonstrates what 'satire' is, if your explanation doesn't cut it, let them give it a go.

Use their mobile devices and Internet bandwidth, not your own.

Students have moved on, and so we have to. Instead of pulling pigtails, throwing paper planes and entering chalk combat, now teachers are attacked with iPhones and Blackberrys. A pox on pedagogy, how can we compete with keeping a students' attention against texting, apps and YouTube? Ignore the buzzing ringtones in your ears after you explain the main point of a lecture, and take a hammer to the offending device.

So we wish. Failing this, make it a competition. First person to find this obscure article online receives a sweet from the magical bag of bribery you buy every week at the store.

For the lazy teacher, working with their devices may be the better option. I found that in the classroom, outright banning of mobile devices meant that I ended up with a large collection of iPhones by the end of the week, and a lot of angry parents who couldn't understand why ringtones and continual text vibrations disrupt lessons. Trying to change tack, I let my students use devices when it was relevant.

Strangely enough, offering some leeway here did make an overall improvement to distractions in the classroom -- they could use it when I said so, or lose it for a week.

Don't forget, fellow education professionals, that technology is there for a reason. From 'Powerpointlessness' to an interactive board covered in permanent graffiti tags, technology use for the sake of looking modern and up-to-date can mean distracting students in a way that gives you ample time to catch up on paperwork and ignore the fact you're 'in control' of these kids.

Write a few more generic, false reports for the 'little darlings' while they watch the latest meme on YouTube, and save a few valuable hours better spent on a social life.

Related:

Topics: iPad, United Kingdom

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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