Assisting Learners Connecting the Dots in Mathematics and Science Examinations

Having an interest in mathematics, science and technology; I often interact with many learners, students and educators. Over the past few years it has lead to many instances which were extremely thought provoking and simply stimulating to my ever inquiring mind. Examination time and the lead up to these stressful events are periods where many factors and thoughts are revealed. It is easy to just brush these aside and move on. But sometimes it is worthwhile to spend the time and listen. Conversations after an examination often have the following trends; “we were never taught it this way in class” or “our sir / ma’am has never asked questions in this fashion”. It is this type of response that I want to delve into and look at a few possible solutions / answers / discussions to these types of response from students and learners.

Why is this a typical response from a large majority of learners I encounter almost on a daily bases? This has lead me to counter with another question of my own. Is there something really there or is it simply as a result of students not applying themselves correctly? After some investigative digging and soul searching a few possible solutions and points of discussion have come to light.

 

Disparity of Content Delivery Among Schools

There is a huge disparity in the way teaching occurs at different schools. A downside to this is that students may sometimes find themselves at sixes and sevens in an examination through no fault of their own. Before I open up a can of worms here, let’s first make it clear that this disparity is not always as a result of poor socio-economic circumstances and lack of finances. Over the past few years there has been many instances of schools in previously disadvantaged areas getting their act together. One of the positives coming from this is that educators and principals have the power to change things in pursuit of academic and economic success for our children. Special attention needs to be given in the areas of mathematics and science education as these are two areas of concern in South Africa at this moment in time.

 

Recognizing Strengths and Weaknesses in Textbooks  

Schools are given a list of prescribed text books to choose from to deliver the prescribed content to their students. As with any type of text, even non-fiction, books have the strengths and weaknesses. Educators and class facilitators are often so focused on getting through the content that they use these books without acknowledging or realizing possible short comings in certain areas. When these areas are critical examination topics, the effect on student understanding and examination readiness may be irrevocably tarnished.

In many subjects, especially in the area of mathematics and science, there are basic principles and theorems which are vital in the understanding of more advanced concepts. Even more important is that many of basic principles and theorems are not isolated to specific topics in mathematics, but often traverses over a number of topics. Some textbooks acknowledge these concepts and the way they occur in different topics in mathematics. Many educators easily miss or pay insufficient attention to the broader application of some of these principles and theorems which cut across multiple topics. One the the causes of  “we were never taught it this way in class” or “our sir / ma’am has never asked questions in this fashion” at the end of a grueling external examination.

 

Honing the Skill to Recognize Concepts  

One of the areas / approaches which requires much needed further attention is finding ways of enlightening our students about the basic principles and theorems which occur across different topical areas in mathematics. In this regard learners should have the ability to recognize these candidates wherever they occur. Often it is like the case of the chameleon who is able to merge into its background by changing its colour. At the end of it all, it is still a chameleon and retains its unique biological properties. The same goes for these mathematical principles and theorems. Irrespective of where they are encountered, they still retain their mathematical properties and characteristics. The way students need to approach them will remain exactly the same.

Examination, tests, tutorial and tasks are useful ways of exploring student understanding of underlying intricacies in mathematics. Unfortunately, educators and facilitators can easily become one dimensional in the way they set questions and design tasks. It becomes the norm to test basic principles within the topics that introduce these principles to learners for the first time. This has the danger of creating the expectation with students that it is the only way they will encounter these types of questions in tests and examinations. The end result is that come an external examination where topic integration is the order of the day, students and learners come horribly short.

Educators and facilitators do not need to have this one dimensional approach in delivering content and testing the understanding of concepts. There is tons of assistance out there able to assist them in developing and expanding their repertoire of setting test and examination questions. One of the obvious avenues to investigate would be to study tests and examinations set by other workers and institutions within the field of mathematics and science. It does not mean we have copy and rehash the questions word for word, as this could lead to infringement of copyright set by the original examiners.  Use these resources as references to set similarly styled questions.

 

In Conclusion

Here I have only exposed a few ideas and have hopefully stimulated some points of discussion which could assist us in preparing our students more holistically in the understanding of basic concepts and theorems in mathematics and science. The effect would have a multifaceted advantage. Students and learners will have a deeper understanding of the concepts they have learned during the delivery of the content. Among other things, they would also be more confident, and more successful in sitting external examinations, In this regard I especially think of students who have to sit for their final examination at the end of grade 12. So let us play our part and assist them in joining all the dots they encounter in mathematics and science examinations and tutorials in the future.

 

Keith Williams

20 September 2018

Some Factors Affecting Student Success in the areas of Mathematics and Physical Science

Mathematics and Science education are pivotal subjects for the progression of technology and innovation within any country. In South Africa we are currently in a crisis where student exit levels in these two subjects are often not of a high enough quality at grade 12 level. This is an area of great concern and has resulted that many parents taking an alternative route by sending their children for extra tuition. The downside is that for many parents extra tuition for their children is simply un-affordable.  So which factors affect our children’s’ results in these two extremely important subjects.

 

The New Curriculum

Over the past few years there has been a great drive to up the quality of content in mathematics and science. One of the forces behind this initiative was to ensure that upon leaving grade 12, learners have enough knowledge of concepts in these two areas to prepare them for the academic load at university. The principles around this were great, but did not take the limited educator / learner contact time into consideration. Educators now have a huge load of content to get through, which has resulted in other gremlins rearing their heads.

 

With the increase in content in the same available time, educators are forced to cover certain areas of work prior to assessments and examinations taking place. The knock-on affect of this is that teachers have to assume that the basics from past standards are in place. Success in mathematics and science depend on this solid foundation from earlier grades, unlike the situation with content heavy subjects such as history for example. Where this is not the case, and with the huge amount of content to cover, learners with a slight lack in the understanding of basic concepts are often left lagging behind. If not remedied early, it could result in the student being scared permanently in his or her understanding of the specific principle or concept.

 

Dedication of Educators

The successful delivery of the curriculum also depends on the educators being dedicated to their main purpose of teaching and preparing our children for the world out there. With the intense work rate required for successful curriculum delivery, educators who are not fully committed to their task also put this vital function in jeopardy. The content may not be covered in its entirety, or it can be completed such a manner that the quality of delivery is inferior. This kind of scenario also impacts on the delivery of teaching concepts which are essential for the understanding of future material to be covered. Ultimately this also impacts on student success at exit level examinations such as the grade 12 final examinations during October and November each year.

 

Teacher to Student Ratio

In many areas we also have over-crowding at schools. Simply there are not enough educators per number of children, resulting in an unacceptably high learner to educator ratio. This type of situation immediately nullifies any kind of individual attention that an educator might want to give, especially with the volume of content she or he needs to cover in any given academic year.

 

Unacceptable learner to teacher ratio does not end at making individual attention almost impossible. It also spills over in affecting the control a teacher might have in the class. With the increase in the number of learners, those who are less disciplined and interested have a greater opportunity for disrupting the class. This can be extremely debilitating to learners, especially when such disruptions are evident during periods in the class when important concepts and principles are being covered. The lack of educator control and increase in class disruptions may inevitably impact on student performance at the end of the year.

 

Change in Learning Style

Another important factor which influences the success of our learners is how the way they learn has changed. Although this is a topic for another time, it is worth mentioning a few thoughts in this regard. Over time society, including our learners, has become bombarded with information and technology. Children have become more and more prone to being intellectually stimulated in a multifaceted way. Educators are being forced to meet up to these expectations to ensure that every learner in the class is adequately stimulated. This is only possible if the educator is adaptable and willing to change his or her teaching style to meet the requirements of the modern day student. In days gone by mathematics was thought to be a subject requiring very little visual stimulation. All of this has changed and today there are even great tools available for educators to increase visual stimulation in both mathematics and science classes.

 

I have only uncovered a small piece of the iceberg here by mentioning a few factors influencing learner success in mathematics and science at our schools. What is required now is to return to the drawing board and to have a critical look at how these obstacles may be overcome. Educators should not only leave this to government or education departments to come up with solutions. Team work requiring all role-players at all levels is needed if we want to change this current situation we are experiencing.

 

Keith Williams

22 February 2018

Office Productivity Tools for Educators

Educators often need turn to productivity software in order to do some of the tasks expected of them. Many are fortunate and are able to afford the best that there is, while others battle to survive on financial crumbs and are of the opinion that they have no means of acquiring the much needed software. This idea is often born through a lack of knowledge and ignorance of  what is out there. In this article I want to shed some light on the matter and also provide some knowledge of productivity tools that are available. The great thing is that some of this software does not even cost an arm and a leg.

Before I proceed let me first of all clarify what is meant by productivity software. This is software that is used in most businesses and homes and over the years has commonly become known as office suites. Most of them consist at least of a word processor for typing, a spreadsheet for graphing and calculations, a presentation program for producing slides and an email program for correspondence. I am sure most of us encounter these tools almost on a daily bases.

Microsoft Office

Image result for microsoft office logo
Source of Image: Microsoft Cooperation

This is probably the most well known of the office suites and is produced by Microsoft Co-operation. To acquire this software a user licence needs to be purchased. Many types of software licences are available and range from a personal user licence, student/educator licence, business licence, multi-user licence, etc. The type of licence that is purchased determines the extent to how the software may by used. People often forget that when they freely copy this software and share it with others they are actually breaking the law. However, this is a topic for another day. The long and short of the matter is that to be able to use this software a financial investment is required, one that could be unaffordable to many.

Being a commercial product, as a user you have the satisfaction of being backed by a huge team of programmers who are constantly working at improving and producing new versions of the software. These upgrades often have extra add-ons, and improvements over their predecessors. In most cases these upgrades are not free and you are required to fork out  more money in order to gain access to this improved tool.

Microsoft Office is an extremely stable product which has built a lasting reputation over many years. Its also has a huge number of advanced features which are often for “power users”. In essence you get a product with all the bells and whistles, but in the day to day using of the program, most people in fact use less than ten percent of its features. So the question arises: do you need all of the bells and whistles? This is a question I leave with you to answer.

I will spend the next few paragraphs unveiling some other alternative which are freely available.

 

Google Office Apps

Image result for Google Apps logo
Source of Image: Google

I have termed this set of apps Google Office. In fact these are three separate pieces of software which together function as a traditional office productivity suite. When you sign up for your Google account in order to get access to Gmail, you automatically have access to all three of these pieces of software.

The word processor is called Google Docs and has a Microsoft Word feel to it. Similarly the spreadsheet has a Microsoft Excel touch to it, and is called Google Sheets. Google Slides is the Microsoft Powerpoint alternative. and is an excellent tool for creating slides and presentations as in Powerpoint. All of these tools are free to use and only proviso is that you must have an internet connection and have a Google account.

Bear in mind that this is not Microsoft Office and a few basic functions may work slightly differently. On the upside you have access to your own drive of 15 GB to save your files to free of charge. This is all stored on the Google cloud,so you have no more worries about backing up information. All files are also backed up to the drive continuously while you work. Definitely an option worth looking into if you have internet access.

 

The following options are stand-alone software suites like Microsoft Office. Both are absolutely free to download legally as they fall within the group of software called open source. The beauty of this type of software is that it is entirely free, but does not necessarily need to bow down to its commercial counterparts in terms of quality. The code belongs to the community and there many hard-working individuals which releases updates on a regular basis.

 

OpenOffice

Image result for OpenOffice logo
Source of Image: Apache Software Foundation

This productivity suite has been around since 1999 and can be downloaded from its official website. OpenOffice has an excellent word processor called Writer, a spreadsheet called Calc and a presentations program called Impress. The current version is Apache OpenOffice 4.1.5. Besides the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs; the suite also includes a good relational database, a drawing program and a good mathematics equation editor.

Besides its great basic functionality and excellent office suite, OpenOffice has a number of other excellent features which adds great value. These include to ability to open files created with Microsoft Office, as well as the ability to export OpenOffice files from their native formats to other popular formats. In addition, many developers have developed OpenOffice templates. Some are commercial products, but many are freely available in the public domain.

Open Office is definitely a noteworthy contender in the office suite category for educators.

 

LibreOffice

Image result for LibreOffice logo
Source of Image: Document Foundation

LibreOffice has been around since 2011 as a spin-off from OpenOffice. It is developed by the Document Foundation and may be downloaded freely from this link. The latest version of LibreOffice is also able to save files into docs and xlsx format (more compatible with the latest versions of Microsoft Office) when compared to OpenOffice.

It shares the same names for its word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc) and presentations (Impress) program with OpenOffice.  In comparison to its open source rival, LibreOffice  has a few extra add-ons and templates. Recently an online version of the suite has also been released, which initially only includes a basic version of Writer and Calc. The online version connects to a few of the more well-known cloud storage services such as Google Drive, One Drive, and Dropbox. This innovation  allows you to use the software anywhere where you have an internet connection. The cloud storage service takes care of backing up and keeping your data safe.

There are a few other lesser known and used office productivity suites around as well. These seem to be the major contenders however. I hope that this serves as a source of information for educators who are cash-strapped and are in need of acquiring good quality tools for performing this vital part of their day to day activities. I have dedicated this article to educators specifically, but in essence the options briefly described above are available to anybody in need of an office productivity suite.

 

Keith Williams

22 February 2018

 

 

Grade 12 Math – Some information on Inverse Functions

Inverse Functions is part of the CAPS curriculum for grade 12 mathematics and and is covered in functions. Students are often frightened by the term “Inverse Function”. Here is some brief information which could assist your understanding of this section of the work.

 

If you follow a few basic rules you sould be be safe:

  • start with your orginal equation.
  • swop x and y.
  • Solve for y.

This works for any function and its inverse.

Also remember that the inverse of a function is its reflection across the line y=x. For this reason when referring to the inverse function, some texts will speak about the reflection across the y=x line and do not necessary include the terms inverse function.

Another point of departure is that and every set of co-ordinates on a function will have a matching point on its inverse where the x and y co-ordinates of the function are switched around on the point on the inverse.

 

Here are a few PICS which might be beneficial.






Good luck with your understanding of functions and their inverse.

 

 

Keith Williams

Owner: KW Academic Solutions

15 February 2018

 

Alarm Bells Ring When Educators Work in Isolation

As humans we have this incredible body which is well organised and is an excellent illustration of what integration is about. It does not consist of a myriad of individual cells, each one interested in its own survival. If this were the case, each cell would almost instantaneously experience a horrifying DEATH, Educators and other stake-holders can be likened to the cells of the human body which individually are at high risk, but as a collective secure their own existence and the existence of the whole education system. I want to use this illustration to demonstrate a few instances of how working can isolation lead to the total destruction of the education system.

As a lead-in let’s shed some light on why it can be easy to fall into a spiral which can lead to isolation. Our sole purpose is imparting skills and knowledge to all students and learners which we come into contact with. This task is often so daunting that it is easy to be completely consumed in what we are required to do and often fall into the habit of saying “BUT I DO NOT HAVE TIME”. There is the lesson planning, modes of lesson delivery, assessments, evaluations, marking, administration, etc. etc. The reality is that we MUST make time to engage and share resources.

Lesson Plans

Our lesson plan forms one of the cornerstones of our activities and can be a time thieve. Let us think out of the box and see if it is indeed necessary to do the lesson plan from scratch each time. After all education has been around for centuries and it is a major global activity. Over time, many educators have probably had to plan the identical lesson you want to do. What is more, there are millions of educators around the world who are prepared to share their work with you? Have a look and see what is around. This will not only save time, but might also assist you in adding a new dimension to your plan.

Sharing your work can add even more gratification to the whole process. As the word says: “CARING IS SHARING”. It is easier than what you might imagine. With the advances in technology social media, there are many platforms which allow anyone to share their work with the rest of the work.

 

Lesson Delivery

This is where that ultimate lesson  plan materializes..

Lesson delivery has undergone a huge metamorphosis over time. This has been fueled by advances in technology and the types of new resources which are available to educators. Just considering this, it is evident that educators in isolation are in danger of using old arcade methods for teaching their students. The impact could be the loss of students in the system who have become bored and require renewed ways of stimulation, which could impact on the maintenance of a viable education system.

Educators finding themselves in this precarious position have many paths available for remeding their situation. In many districts there are groups who present workshops and seminars addressing trends in lesson delivery. Then of course there are all the online sources which are available. If as a teacher you have anything to add to this pool, share them either within your district or globally on the internet using the many platforms available for sharing.

The Scope of Educator / Student Interaction

For many years the classroom was seen as the only place for teacher / student interaction. This is obviously the best scenario, but can be limiting within the modern curriculum. Learning content has grown tremendously and educators often find themselves in the situation where the need to get through content is the driving force. The result is that the time for reenforcing concepts or giving attention to slowler learners are an absolute minimum. This is where educators need to be bold, come into the open and look for alternative ways of enhancing interaction time with their students.

Our technological advancing world has made it possible to extent the boundaries of our physical classroom with ease. Online student management systems, social media and many other resources are readily available. These not only assists us in managing our students, but also creates environments where learners are able to interact with teachers outside the confines of a physical building. Many of these tools also make it possible for educators to upload material which students are able to access with ease. One of the great things is that many of these occur in a safe environment.

Assessments

Assessments are useful tools which assist us in evaluating and monitoring student understanding of particular concepts. In isolation, an educator can easily become set in his or her ways of assessment. Many of these can be one dimensional and may be at a major disadvantage to certain students in a class. Ultimately this could result in learners being unfairly judged and are therefore unsuccessful in the assessment.

In today’s time and age, there are many exciting add-ons which are used globally and locally to spice up the way assessments are being conducted. Some of these are online tools and applications, while others simply introduce educators to new ways of looking at assessments. Be prepared to explore some of these alternatives, and in this way prevent some learners of falling in between the cracks to obscurity.

In Conclusion

In this article I have only highlighted four aspects of the education system which can result in learner failure and system malfunction, if educators prefer to work on their own in isolation. The solution lies in that as educators we learn to engage with one another, locally and globally. We also need to share our resources and also be receptive to new ideas which are applicable in even some cornerstones of our education system.

Keith Williams

17th November 2017

Why Hours of Teaching Does Not Always Translate to an Increase in Past Rate in Mathematics

Student success in mathematics has become an extremely contentious issue in South Africa. Many factors contribute to the current situation and one could spend days debating all of these issues. Within this huge maze of  confusion and discord, there are some contenders which present themselves as major contributors to this chaos.  To stem this tide  it has become a matter of urgency to initiate steps towards changing the current situation. It is with this as a back-drop that I attempt to highlight one contender in teaching style that influences examination outcomes, in particular mathematics.

As an introduction, it is of utmost importance that we realize why it is important  for us as a country to change this current situation. Our world today has become a technological highway where only the fittest are able to compete and survive. Mathematics and Science are major cornerstones in technology, which makes it imperative that the acquisition of these skills at a level that is internationally acceptable are essential if we want to be role players in our changing world.

So where to from here?

In answering this question it is important to analyse the way we teach mathematics in our schools and the manner in which student competency in the subject is examined. This analyses must be done comparatively in such a manner that a true synergy is reached between teaching methods / approaches, and examination style. Looking at this critically it is obvious, at least from my point of view, that it is primarily the style of teaching which must align itself to equip learners with the necessary knowledge in the subject. In addition, it should also impart the skill to learners which prepares them sufficiently for the interrogation in the final examinations. This leads me to the open-minded approach.

In many instances teaching is often extremely rigid and is only driven by the curriculum and its content. Educators are confronted by a year planner or pace setter which dictates what content needs to be covered during a prescribed period of time. This of course is important to ensure that all the prescribed content is covered and cannot be over looked. It is entrenched in the words: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. So why is this not enough to prepare our learners for their final examinations.

Learners exposed to the full curriculum will have covered all the content they require for their current grade. A major cause of concern is that the understanding, even at an advanced level, is often limited to the specific chapter or section in which the concept in introduced. This what I call the SILO approach and way of understanding concepts in mathematics.

Many of us have seen SILOS and know that these are used to house or store various materials. These structures are important for the safekeeping of their content. The question now arises what if we are required to create or build something from the content housed in these structures. It is obvious that the content needs to be mixed according specific principles in order to achieve the desired outcome. So how does this apply to my question here regarding teaching and examination readiness in mathematics and science, and even in learning in general.

Close scrutiny of the final examinations for grade 12 show a clear trend that learners are expected to know their basic content. This of course comes as no surprise. What is also apparent is how integrated with regards to mathematical content the style of questioning has become. Learners are not only required to know their basic content within the area that it was taught, but also need to be able to identify a concept and have the ability dealing with it successfully within any other area of mathematics where it is applicable.

In closing, I would like to end with the following. Student contact is an essential part of the learning process. As long as we remain entirely content driven, there is the possibility that our learners may know their basic content but might not have the ability dealing with them in an integrated approach. As with those SILOS standing strong protecting their content, the real value of their content is only realized when they are mixed together to produce goods of extreme quality. So let us continue to nurture our learners, teach them the content and up-skill them in looking at concepts with an open mind.

Keith Williams

14 November, 2017

 

Is Social Media An Absolute No-No In Education?

In a recently conducted survey (www.statistica.com)  it has been found that there are about 16.1 million smartphone users in South Africa. What is even more outstanding is that this number is expected to rise to 22 million users by the year 2021. According to 2016 census figures South Africa had a total of population of 59.51 million people. This means that the percentage of people utilizing cellphones in 2017 is approximately an amazing 27%. It is with this information as backdrop that I would like to deal with the matter of social media in education.

Over the past few months we have been inundated with situations where learners have used cellphones indiscreetly. In many cases this has hardened the stance of the use of cellphones in the schooling environment, and justifiably so. In many institutions their network firewalls naturally block Facebook access, Twitter access, as well as access to many other social media sites. The question arises:

“What if social media sites can be utilized in education?”

There is a simple answer to this.

“They can be utilized”

Facebook, Twitter, Whats App, Instagram and suchlike are among the major role players in our social media landscape. Besides all the negative information that get’s posted out there, business’s use these as tools as means of promoting their services and products. It is simply because they have realized that it is a  powerful and quick means of getting the word out to the masses. Can this be totally ignored in the education arena? Might be debatable, but my take on this is definitely NO.

One of the pillars of my conviction is the way some of these platforms are already used nationally and internationally in education. Many of our local radio and television stations have programs presenting educational stimulation and examination revision to their listeners and viewers out there. Some of these media stations encourage student and learner interaction with a subject expert. This can either take place on air or during a prearranged time slot. In many cases the tools used for this interaction are the likes of twitter, Facebook, Whats App, etc.

Considering what is currently happening, educators and trainers cannot simply ignore the advancements being made in engaging social platforms in education. We simply need to look at ways of utilizing these powerful modern means of communication to the best of our ability. It will definitely come with its own challenges, which CAN be MINIMIZED if approached in the correct manner. Traditional education systems have existing processes which can assist in developing strategies for utilizing cellular technology and social platforms in education.

It is quite OBVIOUS that using mobile devices without control mechanisms in place would be absolutely disastrous. Every effort should be made to ensure that a framework is developed which both learners and educators are able to understand, without any room for misinterpretation. Once this system is introduced, any guidelines and rules forming part of this strategy must be strictly enforced. Current mainstream educators and trainers should be able to relate to this kind of development as the enforcing of rules and guidelines is not something new, but already is part of our existing education system.

We have an opportunity to engage and stimulate our learners employing devices and platforms many if them currently use on a daily basis. When we consider this concept together with the information displaying how wide spread the use of cellular devices are within South African as well as globally, then the scene has been set. All that is required currently is a change of attitude, a brave heart and  start developing the framework. This will definitely stimulate a rethink of “No Social Media in Education” to “Social Media in Education in a controlled Environment“.

Keith Williams

 

Engaging Social Media and Technology in the Learning Environment from a Personal Perspective: Special Mention of WhatsApp

I have always had a great passion for technology and computers and the way that these devices are able to benefit our lives. This was probably born in 1988 when I found myself as being of the first people to own a huge, heavy 20 MB XT computer. It was soon after the commodore 64 started to gain popularity. At that time no-one had any idea of how these huge dinosaurs would evolve into slick, light weight objects which would have a hand in practically all aspects of our lives today.

When I entered into the educational sector after many years in the biomedical laboratory environment, it was natural that my passion for technology accompanied me. I was driven by an uncontrollable desire to reach out to my students in a way that allowed us to communicate on class related matters outside the confines of the classroom walls. In my mind technology and social media held the key.

One of the first things was to ascertain how many students had a cellular phone and had access to WhatsApp. Once I established that most of the students have phones and use WhatsApp on regular bases, it was an obvious progression to establish WhatsApp Groups. These were setup in such a way that students were grouped according to their NQF level and class option (full-time or part-time) at the college.

 

Group Administrator

When setting up your WhatApp group it is essential to bare some factors into consideration. One of the most important is the creation of an admin account and to appoint an administrator. For your own sanity I suggest that the lecturer / educator make herself or himself the administrator of the group. This will enable you to control the content and to ensure that only appropriate messages be posted on the group. The administrator is easily able to delete undesirable content and can even block specific members in extreme case scenarios.

 

Ground Rules

Once the groups have been created, the lecturer / teacher needs to step up and set some ground rules. Without a framework things can easily fall apart. The rules must be clear and understandable to all of the students in the group. One of the rules that MUST form part of this framework is that ONLY subjected related content is allowed to be posted. Also be specific on times for posting and be sure to enforce this. If not enforced, you could easily become irritated by untimely messages during the night or over a weekend.

 

Videos and Images

Besides messages, WhatsApp also allows the posting of videos and pictures. People tend to use this for sending inspirational messages or pictures. This feature can be extremely useful for both educator and learner as well. I have found this extremely useful for disseminating images of worked examples, results, and activity sheets.  There are probably many uses you could find for using these feature in your classroom environment.

There are often situations where students are unable to attend formal classes and miss out on important concepts that might have been covered. I have found a way round this by using one of the chrome applications that allow screen and webcam capture, which can then be converted into video clips. By using my laptop and built-in webcam, I have started recording 10 minute stints of work done on the white board in class. These are available from Youtube for any learner having the link. This at least gives learners the opportunity to revisit recordings of past lessons in their one time. Although the video is raw and has not been refined in any way, the quality at least is such that learners are able to see what has been written on the white board. Students often like to relive the lessons during their own time.

In this post I have just scratched the surface of using a platform such as WhatsApp. There is so much more and definitely warrants more in depth discussion in the future. I hope that this assists in setting some type of platform to help educators, trainers and skills development practitioners in their quest of incorporating technology into their teaching space.

Keith Williams

The Marriage between Education and Technology is a Necessity

In our modern world, we are surrounded by a high level of noise, which often affects our way of thinking and disturbs our focus. To be an effective citizen, business person or student, everyone needs to be able to rise above the existing turmoil in order to be heard and to make progress. This factor is of extreme importance if we consider the learners attending schools. A vital consideration of course would be to identify the source of this noise and to have a contingency plan to use it as beneficially as possible.

When we consider the source, the answer is almost rhetorical. Technology and its progress is almost entirely responsible for this noise. The only way to survive this situation and eventually become an achiever is to embrace it, and find ways of using it to the benefit of everyone. Even within the classroom / lecture theatre situation.

Cell Phones

Cell phones are a major distraction to many educators within the classroom situation and many schools and institutions have even gone as far as to ban students from having cell phones in their possession. Their main problem is that educators have to try and engage with the learners and teach, while having a constant battle for the attention of students who are distracted by their mobile devices. As we know, the order by teaching staff for students to put down devices and pay attention often results the opposite reaction. A more feasible scenario would be to find ways which enables the utilization of these devices within the classroom environment. The outcome would be beneficial to both parties with students holding on to their devices and using them as tools from which they are also taught new information and concepts.

 

Social Media

We live in a modern world where the young, and often the not so young, would simply die if there was not any social media. It has become so engraved in society that life without social media is almost unimaginable. Is this the end of the road or simply the start of a new approach? As educators, lecturers and people in a teaching capacity, we need to answer these questions and concerns ourselves. It is vital to always focus on positives and not be influenced by negative ideologies on the matter. Trying to push aside social media would be disastrous, so let us rather embrace it.

When we consider social media, parents and teachers are always weary of the almost uncountable number of dangers it may expose our young people to. However, by controlling the environment and taking charge, social media could become a big plus in assisting us in reaching our objective of imparting knowledge to the young. Often the obvious question to follow would be:

how?

Chat rooms and social groups are a common occurrence in social media circles. Parents and educators are always aware of the unpleasant situations which could result if student or learner lands up on one of these meeting places which have a bad following. However, there are many highly reputable ones around, and business and social circles often use groups to pass on messages, market their products, or simply engage with their peers. Education need not be any different. Setup user groups and chat areas dedicated to engaging with students and parents. This will have a positive spin-off for parents, learners and educators.

 

Graphics and Animation

Many young people engage in some kind of gaming using applications on their cellular phones, tablets, PCs and laptops. Many studies have shown that this visual stimulation assists learners and students in their ability to retain information. Parents and educators often are of the notion that certain young people spend too much time in this environment, and rightfully so. Why do we not use this type of environment to engage with learners on a different level? Today, there are many environments and applications that make it possible for educators to create engaging educational video content without the need for sophisticated equipment. In many cases all that is needed is a connection to the internet and a laptop with a built –in webcam. Some of these program providers even provide storage space where people utilizing their software or applications are able to store their creations in the safety of a ‘cloud’ environment.

When we look at events and technology is this manner, it often results in a different way of assessing our current outlook of the role that these apparent evils could play in educating our young people. One thing is certain that technology and the noise levels it brings to society will never cease, on the other hand its intensity is rather going to increase. Are we going to allow this influence and undermine our way of teaching and preparing the young for the future? How foolish if that were the case. Let us rather make a stand and always look at ways of incorporating technology into our environment. Technology should not be seen as an enemy but as a necessity. The more we try and shun it, the greater the chance is that it will come around to bite us. So as educators, for the benefit of future generations and the young, let us embrace and change the way many of us look at technology and its role in the learning environment.

Keith Williams

The fit between Traditional Education and Technology

 

Educators have one main focus, that is to impart knowledge and skills to their learners and students. The fundamentals of this process is covered extensively during educator training. We are living in a changing world where technology has become an essential part of everyday life. It is vital that the power of technology be incorporated into the classroom to enhance the learning experience of both student and educator. Before venturing into this minefield, it is essential that some important aspects be clarified.

When we consider the fundamentals of the teaching process, there are certain core elements that will always be part of the whole process. Firstly learners and students are introduced to a new concept or idea. This is further substantiated by content giving students a greater understanding and insight of the concepts being addressed. In the next phase it is essential to reinforce student understanding. The process usually ends with a final assessment covering all of the concepts taught in the section or chapter. In an approach marrying education with technology it is vital that the core elements of teaching principles be maintained. We will go through each of the core concepts and see how traditional education can be associated with technological protocols and procedures.

Introducing a New Concept

When introducing new concepts to learners it is important to present it in such a way that they are able to relate to it easily and even make associations to everyday life. Traditionally this took the form of the text book, teachers notes on a black board and maybe some posters put together using pictures and illustrations from various magazines. With technology and social media ways of introducing new ideas and concepts are endless. Many reliable and authentic resources can be found on the internet. The onus lies with the educator to confirm authenticity and validity of these sources prior to using it in the classroom situation. Once clarified and confirmed, there are fantastic graphics, animations and texts to enrich the manner in which such new concepts are introduced.

 

Supporting and more Detailed Content

The introduction of new concepts and ideas are vital building blocks of the whole process of learning. On its own it would only give a student a foretaste of what the concept is about. It is of utmost importance that more in depth content be found and presented to the learner in a clear and concise manner. The days of doing this as a boring lecture or talk belongs to the past if technology and the internet are engaged in an informative and intuitive manner. Once again the onus is on the educator to determine authenticity and validity of resources. Students can now receive this supporting information in many different formats. One of the buzzwords we hear today is multimedia. This simply means presenting the material to your learners using a combination of still graphics, audio and animation.

 


When educators wish to embark on this modern approach of using technology to empower their students, then there are few crucial considerations that need to be made. Some of the material on the internet is protected by copyright or by a number of different licencing agreements regarding its use. So it is necessary to ascertain whether you have the right to use the material. Developing your own material can be extremely time consuming, but if done correctly and optimally, then only minor adjustments needs to be done as new information on a concept emerges, The material your learners engage with will also be exactly what you intend it to be. Many platforms allow educators to prepare learning material in this fashion. In addition to this, the educator is assured that all learners get the exact same message on a given work, even if they are of a different class. Thus, standardized content for everyone, ensuring that each learner gets all of the information he or she needs to know without exception.


 

Reinforcing and Assessing Understanding of Concepts

Once the learner has been introduced to new concepts it is ALWAYS important for the educator to know whether the learners have grasped the content they have been exposed to. In many cases this type of evaluation takes the form of a combination of activities, worksheets and short diagnostic tests. At present, there is almost and unending list of resources that educators are able to employ to design and create these important tools. Besides being visually stimulating, many of them allow and encourage direct interaction with the learner. As with all of the content covered thus far, even here the onus returns to the educator to ensure that all of the evaluation tools employed meet the required quality standards.

 

Final Assessment of Understanding

One of the last phases of the learning cycle is to test or assess the students understanding of all the work covered in a section or during a specified period. Often this takes the form of a written test or examination, project or assignment, or a practical evaluation. The internet is an extremely rich resource of tools which educators can use to develop tools for assessing overall understanding. There are even platforms which allow some of these processes to be performed entirely online.

 

Final Word

Technology is here and definitely here to stay. Many educators and administrators have an inherent fear for technology. The truth of the matter is that the sooner we embrace it, the quicker we will realize its benefits. Technology, the internet and social media will never replace the personal interaction between teacher and learner. In fact, the teacher will still have to verify authenticity of information and ensure that acceptable standards in education are maintained. However, there is definitely a space for marriage between traditional teaching methods and technology.

Keith Williams

 

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