Teaching, Technology & you! More than a simple PowerPoint.

Teaching with technology is not an easy game it requires thorough planning and an understanding of what you are trying to convey to your students. To teach with technology is much like using a tool to accelerate the core idea, for example, if you use a bicycle to get from point A to B you have two options, you can either learn how to ride the bike and get from A to B faster, easier and enjoy yourself or you can choose to not use the bike but rather drag it along with you. Technology is very similar, use technology to accelerate the idea, to get the message across in a more powerful and impactful manner. Not using technology or rather not fully understanding the technology capabilities and only merely wishy-washing your way through will lead to the technology actually slowing you down.

Over the years I have been keen on the use of technology and yes it is a force that has and will further change our human lives. Think back to a classroom from your early school days, all you had was a teacher’s voice and a blackboard. Fast forward a couple of years and you see the humble blackboard/chalk had turned into a whiteboard/texters, that was an innovation back then. Fast forward a few more years and we had some innovative teachers using overhead projectors (wow an electric machine in a classroom!). There was a buzz when the laminated papers would go over the bright light and the whole class could see what the teacher was marking, another useful aspect of this machine as we could turn it on and see our hands make amazing art shadows. Yes, the teacher felt powerful as their work would show up in real-time. Fast forward to more recent years and we now of course have the PowerPoint presentations accompanied by the almost mandatory projector. Teachers who did not keep up and still wanted to work on the laminated paper very quickly were left behind.

We are now at another turning point in history the PowerPoint and the projector will soon need to be turned off. Classroom learning should not be to looking at PowerPoints and talking about the endless bullet points!. Teaching is meant to be engaging, it’s meant to be ‘deep diving’ into concepts, into the process, into knowledge and getting the various elements linked in one’s mind to allow for student-driven future growth and exploration.

I have not been a big advocate of PowerPoints, why because even today a quick Google search for ‘why was PowerPoint created’? comes back with “PowerPoint was designed to facilitate visual demonstrations for group presentations in the business environment.” Oh, I see, so despite teachers and classrooms all over the world anchoring their teachings with PowerPoints for over 30 years now, it still is not suggested for education, nor was it created with the intention of taking over classrooms. However, due to the remote learning requirements caused by Covid19 PowerPoints are a norm and a necessity as we get more accustomed to this new concurrent way of learning, but still, just know that this was not what the tool was created for.

We need to make sure that we are adequately prepared for the post-pandemic students, students who will come back to class or expect to get the same experience from joining the class from the comfort for their own home. This is going to be a significant shift in our teaching environment, so if you’re not using PowerPoints then what can we use?

The strongest link in the chain has to be the teacher, you, who actually is not a teacher at all but rather a ‘facilitator.’ A facilitator is there to simply pass on a message in a fun, engaging and meaningful manner. So the first part of the puzzle is for the teacher to have passion, have a desire to be in the classroom, interact with the students, forming strong relationships with genuine concern and care for the students well being.

I am an aviation enthusiast, I can talk all day when it comes to aircraft and airports, however, when I’m in the classroom I am very mindful of not overwhelming the students with the knowledge, rather motivating them, giving them just enough challenges to self-explore, understand and find their own passion in aviation. If I walk into a classroom and I have to teach a topic on let’s say how an aircraft generates lift, now I’ve got a couple of options and the traditional way and teach will be to sit down, spend four or five hours to come up with flash PowerPoints, I can be really cool with my animations and get ‘ahead’ with awesome sound effects. Now, in the classroom as they start up the projector almost in the direct opposite manner the student’s eyes dull down, why, they have been seeing this ‘innovation’ all their lives, it should no longer qualify as new technology or innovation now, it should be called boring routine!

An example of how lift is generated in my classroom- I would do the following; first I would share the key terms and general idea on the pressure difference and equal and opposite reactions via an audio file no longer than 5-6mins. Take the students on a small journey of an air particle, what does this one air particle experience as the aircraft is flying through the air? Imagine what happens if I cut the wings off? After understanding what the journey of the air particle is, now what about the other air particles around this one particular? How do they interact and how does the bigger picture all make sense now? I introduce the concept of what we call the ‘boundary-layer’ after setting the sense and allowing some degree of student-driven imagination and exploration. If I was to start off with concepts and basics ideas in class it may bore many while starting at the deep end will leave many lost and confused. Rather I’ve broken it down to a very simple level where the student gets a perspective from a single air particle. I slowly build on the whole picture and then we get to the end result. But up until this point, it is hardly innovative and there is minimal use of technology.

A few examples of my use of technology in class to explain the lift concept first is my iPad, there’s a great app that shows how an aerofoil shape determines the amount of lift and drag an aircraft encounters. The students can in real-time change the shape of the aerofoil and see for themselves the variations and impacts of wing shape. In a way, I have now empowered my students with a free digital wind tunnel. Second, I rely on Kahoots which allows me to create healthy competition, ask students questions, and the students are keen as this quiz form carries no consequences rather it’s a diagnostic tool for the student to gauge their own level of understanding. Students who are still not quite sure of the lift concept can now self-study and not just read, make use of the bucket load of videos on YouTube that explain various concepts! A list of videos that I’ve verified and confirmed I can certainly share the links. Now students can look at real-life aircraft they will know why various features are implemented. There’s a lot more that’s happening and to keep up with technology is a challenge in itself, there is an app that looks at 3D models and in augmented reality, the students can walk around engines or wings and see how everything works. So I bring you back to the same point, are you going to walk from A to B dragging your technology (bike) with you or are you going to spend some time learning a few easy to use bits of technology and implement that into a classroom for a much better student experience.

Do you want to spark interest, you want to be that cool teacher? Do you want to innovate? OK here’s a PowerPoint here’s the topic let’s change that completely around, ask the students to take on their own responsibility, get them to read a two or three page summary of the key concepts before they come to class, or better still, create an audio file and share it with the students before they come to class. The students are coming to class with a level of understanding that can be self-acquired allowing you the time to go the ‘extra mile.’

What does the extra mile look like? Well, this is where you should come to your own element,  tease out those things that don’t quite make sense, those ideas those discussions those meaningful arguments on what history tells us, what scientists have found and what experiments can prove. You should be spending the time demonstrating, debating, discussing, explaining and visually enhancing the student’s understanding.

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