Back to school: How to prepare for 21st Century classrooms
As students from all over Australia get ready for their first days of school, an expert from the University of Western Sydney says parents should be prepared for an entirely new educational experience.
Joanne Orlando from the School of Education at UWS says unprecedented access to computer and Internet technologies have drastically altered the learning environment of primary and secondary schools.
"Parents may be surprised to discover the many changes that have taken place in schools over the last 20 years," says Ms Orlando.
"The first noticeable difference may be the stronger emphasis that is placed on the kind of learning that students achieve at home and therefore the types of homework tasks that are assigned."
Ms Orlando says it will become common for students to be assigned more high-level homework tasks that draw on their skills with computers.
"Teachers will be less explicit in their guidelines for a major project, thereby allowing students to use their computer skills to present their work in diverse and interesting ways," says Ms Orlando.
"This may mean that students will use PowerPoint rather than the old-fashioned sheet cardboard and teachers will assess the content of the project as well as the suitability of methods they have used to present the information."
Ms Orlando completed a PhD study of the use of computer technologies by five teachers from government primary and secondary schools in western Sydney over a five-year period.
At the time of the study, four of the five teachers were in their mid forties and early fifties and had limited experience with Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
"At first, the prospect of having computers in the classroom was quite daunting for the teachers, who were aware that their students had already acquired computer skills that exceeded their own," says Ms Orlando.
"However, by the end of the study, each of the teachers realised that skills and knowledge of ICT are boundless and they could never possibly be expected to learn everything."
According to Ms Orlando, this realisation has led to another significant change within the classroom environment.
"Classrooms no longer operate as a point of one-way dissemination of information, where teachers stand at the front of the room and speak to a sedentary group of students," says Ms Orlando.
"When it comes to computer skills, many teachers allow their student's knowledge and expertise to have a real influence in the classroom.
"Computers and the Internet offer such amazing diversity in terms of the diverse skills that children of all ages can complete. Thankfully, the majority of primary and secondary schools have now become interactive and dynamic places, where students have the opportunity to further develop the computer skills they have already acquired at home and pass these skills on to their peers."
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