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Creating a digitally challenging space for kids

Published on Thursday, 28 Jun 2012
Jennifer Fenton
Photo: CDNIS

Jennifer Fenton, Grade 6 leader at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS), aims to create a classroom environment which supports and challenges pupils. Central to this is giving them the skills and awareness to make the best use of technology. She talks to John Cremer

In this area, what is your basic approach?
We live in a digital world, where our students are immersed in technology, and our classrooms need to reflect this. I think it is more important to consider the essential skills our students must have to be successful in such a world, so my first thoughts have more to do with learning needs than the actual tools of technology.

What do you see as the key skills?
A number of organisations have identified these “skills for the 21st century”. We must consider how to develop spaces for learning where students collaborate, question, challenge, create, and participate.

With this in mind, essential technologies include tools that allow students to develop these skills with access to the internet via computers, tablets and other mobile devices.

What other changes does that entail?
One of the biggest changes to occur is our actual notion of a class. It is no longer confined to the time or space of our school and individual classroom. My students feel connected to a global community of learners. They have multiple opportunities to learn with others in various ways. With Skype conversations, presenting and participating in a student-led conference series via online virtual classrooms, blogging and tweeting, they have an authentic and global audience.

How does this affect the teacher’s role?
As teachers, we can no longer be dispensers of knowledge – students have the information at their fingertips. Rather, I now focus on ensuring my students have the skills to find the information they are looking for effectively, to evaluate, and to verify the reliability of sources. The content becomes less important; the focus is on conceptual understanding – using technology to support student-driven inquiry.

How have students responded?
Due to this shift, I believe my students feel that they have ownership over their learning. They have choices about what to do and how to share it. They maintain blogs and create amazing videos to share personal interests. And many of my students now have their own YouTube channels and SoundCloud accounts where they share their compositions and ask for feedback – which they receive.

What other benefits do you notice?
Technology has enhanced my effectiveness as a teacher. Working in a 1:1 laptop environment with my Grade 6 class has enabled me to do so much more with students working on very different tasks – informed by need, learning style and interest. I have also become a more consistent and effective communicator with parents and the wider school community. Updates on our class blog keep people informed about our events and activities. And building a professional learning network with access to blogs, wikis, organisations and social networks keeps me connected to other educators around the world.

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