The world is experiencing a big technological revolution, and education can't escape these changes. Today, European countries are trying to adapt the educational system by using new devices and techniques to teach and motivate young people.
But, sometimes teachers need advice and help to adapt correctly technology to their classes to get good results. Meritxell Viñas is the co-founder of TotemGuard, a Spanish company born eleven years ago that works with schools, universities and training centers, helping with technology projects adapted for classrooms and with the management of networks and computers.
Meritxel, which was a teacher years ago, told New Europe in an interview that “students are clearly more engaged and achieve better academic results when technology is there to support their learning process”. “If they love technology outside the classroom, it makes sense to integrate those devices and web tools in every day learning”, she added.
Every school, university and person is different, and that's why technology is not the only way to get students' attention in the classroom. “If it's well implemented, it is definitely one of the easiest forms of increasing motivation and autonomy in learning”, but is not the only option. Having success on education does not depend on using tools or not, “it depends how we use it to engage the learners” and “it is totally possible that a class without any technology learns better than a classroom fully equipped”.
E-learning, that includes all forms of electronically supported learning and teaching, can be used in a face-to-face education, to give more details, examples or facilities to find out more about any topic. However, technology also benefits distance-education, “eliminates any geographical boundary for real time collaboration between students and teachers”.
Generational barriers can create conflicts in this kind of teaching. In general, young people spend lots of time using computers, mobiles or other tech devices, giving them a better knowledge and familiarity with technologies. In this way, according to Meritxell, teachers have the responsibility to train themselves in the new technologies and get involved, for example, in social networks.
Withal, most of the students only know about the tools they use in their everyday life; they need knowledge about how to use them safety and efficiently. “They’re not better than teachers in Google Search techniques, management of digital information or image editing, to give you three examples. Teachers can actually learn faster about any technology if they are motivated to do so. As adults, they have more experience, more wisdom and more brain resources over them”.
Last July, TotemGuard started an educational blog called “IT Resources for Teachers ”. The idea behind this online publication was to communicate with teachers who have problems keeping up with the rapid technological change in their classrooms. “We started answering the most common questions through different posts and many of them became viral. This fact precipitated more questions from other teachers and has given us a valuable insight to the problems that an educator faces today”, explained Meritxell.
The blog includes technological resources and methodologies, such as “7 ideas to take advantage of Instagram as a teacher”, “Google Drive: How to use it in the classroom and differences with DropBox” and “15 helpful tips to use iPad for teachers and students”. With all these advices they are developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), where teachers around the world are helping others telling their own experiences and impressions. “Thanks to Skype, Twitter and other social networks, teachers can get immediate advice and real life experiences from other similar schools or colleges to help them in the decision process and get tips on the key practices for success”.
All these advices are very helpful for teachers who know what kind of technological tools they need inside their classrooms, but there are a lot of options to choose. The iPad is the new addition, because it's easy to use and it has a big variety of educational applications. Meritxell also recommends other interesting products that have appeared on the educaton scene, such as Augmented Reality, 3D software, Interactive Floor, Microsoft Illumishare and Promethean ActivTable .
At European-level, e-learning is part of the EU Programme for Lifelong Learning 2007–2013. The program supports and supplements actions by Member States, and encourages interchange, cooperation and mobility between education and training systems within the Community.
Countries like Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Malta, are working in a New Learning Environment; they use multimedia in teaching, such as virtual textbooks or Lego-robots. Meanwhile, other Member States bet on e-Skills, like Finland with the initiative Netlibris, that was a pedagogic method of teaching literature.
Supporting the development of ICT-based resources is another way to encourage e-learning. Cyprus, for example, Cyprus had increased the number of PCs in schools and promoted wand multimedia systems. Besides, the actual economic crisis is damaging all these projects and now a days schools and universities receive less or none money from Governments.
“The government in Spain has stopped the program called Escuela 2.0, where public schools received a netbook for every student in the first and second year of Secondary School, fully equipped with software applications”, explains Meritxell.
In February 2012, almost all EU countries have committed to reducing their expenditure on universities, while many research budgets have been reduced. The latest round of public sector cuts in Italy, Ireland and Spain, are an example of these austerity measures. “Furthermore the individual budgets of the schools have been cut and no alternative plans for the technological advancement of schools are currently on the table. However at this point in time, the biggest obstacle for improving education is the low morale in teachers due to these circumstances”.
The design of a education system is a must in a lot of European Countries, but at this moment “it is not a big priority in the government’s agenda”, said Meritxell. “Politicians need to spend hours in the classrooms and speak to teachers from public and private schools and universities. Results will be better if they learn the reality in which teachers live and both work constructively together”.
Regardless the difficult situation that Europe is living, e-learning is an issue that countries shouldn't forget or delete from their agendas. By using new technologies on today's education, “students probably wiil work in jobs that have not been invented yet due to the technological revolution” and that is good for the European growth.