by Marco Bento, the School of Education of Coimbra and the Research, Education, Training and Intervention Centre (ESEC)
In an era when learning happens anytime and everywhere, are we aware of how much is the use of technology massively needed in education? Today, the pandemic has accelerated this process. However, even if the use of technology in an educational context has over a century of history, we are still reluctant to use it. We call for a transformation in schools that is not only technological but includes a change in its pedagogy. Access to information does not depend exclusively on schools anymore. Students can easily search and find information, but they may encounter difficulties in selecting the correct one and analysing it properly.
In this whole new educational process, the role of the teacher has changed radically, acquiring new characteristics. However, getting used to the current reality is not an easy task. That's why teacher training is important in helping teachers adapt to the new type of learners and guide them on how to use the latest technology. It is a fact that recently suddenly Emergency Remote Learning and the use of digital technologies became the "New World" for the education system. For some teachers, this change happened more naturally while some others were forced to make a quick transition, and this brought difficulties and mistakes.
Digital learning has been lately demonised, based on the assumption that face-to-face teaching and digital teaching are opposite sides of a battle. Nothing could be more misleading: both environments are fundamental to learning improvement.
Most teachers, parents and students may have critically evaluated their experiences with Emergency Remote Learning, due to lack of resources (such as computers or internet connection), and a proper pedagogical and technical preparation suitable for the digital environment, resulting in a loss of confidence in the new set-up.
The truth is that the world was not prepared for a pandemic of this nature, neither the school. In the emergency, teachers brilliantly tried to do their best to ensure that school would not stop. For all these reasons it is now misleading to continue calling any type of online learning Emergency Remote Learning, giving it a negative connotation.
The challenge is now to rethink the school environment, trying to combine the digital and the face-to-face environments (Hybrid Learning Models).
We know that many teachers are already putting this into practice with their students, creating pedagogical scenarios that are not just a replica of the "analogue" ones. Students are encouraged to search and select information, watch and analyse videos, systematise content and produce resources that bring together what they learn.
Collaboration has been crucial to overcome isolation and help teachers to keep growing as professionals. The networked learning that many teachers have been able to experience was beneficial since it allowed them to establish online relationships with colleagues from various parts of the country and thus create learning networks for professional development.
The use of digital technologies in learning completes students' knowledge development. They serve to support classroom dynamics and the evolution of informal learning, constituting an enormous added value in the learning process. In this context, one of the biggest challenges faced by the educational system is the design of new pedagogical learning environments. It is time to think about pedagogical models that rethink the role of the teacher: what s/he teaches, why s/he teaches, how s/he teaches, in what spaces, using what resources.
We know pupils feel a great attraction to mobile technologies and they use them daily whether for communicating, researching, playing games, or creating social connections. According to this, there may be the possibility to improve learning results using pedagogical, technological, convergent, portable, multimedia and interactive resources via mobile technologies in educational contexts.
New media are changing teaching and learning. They not only open access to information but also provide them in various formats (text, image, sound, video) using different forms of communication.
Teaching strategies should promote the integration of various senses: imagination, intuition, collaboration, and emotional impact. Formats such as images, video, music (multimedia resources) can facilitate the learning process, providing interactive experiences to the learners by connecting senses, feelings, and reason. In this way, students can become active parts. Its effectiveness is deeply connected to the students' involvement in the research, in the interaction with their knowledge, looking for new ways of expressing it.
The most widely used hybrid model is "flipped learning", which combines face-to-face and virtual learning for greater efficiency.
Students have the opportunity to study online (at home or school) and discuss what they have learned, in groups or individually in the classroom. Face-to-face activities can be carried out in different forms, such as discussions, elaboration of projects, researches. This model involves students in the production of the learning outcomes, making the learning process more meaningful.
Hybrid models need to be planned considering the diversity of access conditions of each student, inside and outside school. Teachers should design different activities for those who have hardly or no access, partial or regular access to digital technologies: before class (individual study), during class (face-to-face or online group activities) and after school (follow-up and evaluation).
Today, the greatest challenge for the school is to transform the traditional teacher-student relationship into an active and more participatory model. A complex process that will take time.
Author: Marco Bento is a teacher at the School of Education of Coimbra and a researcher in educational technology at the Research, Education, Training and Intervention Centre (ESEC) and the Centre for Research in Education of the University of Minho. He is also part of the Pedagogical Direction of Colégio Santa Eulália, the first Google for Education reference school in Portugal, leading the Google Educators Group SUPERTABi.
Article translated from Portuguese by: Patrícia Baeta