All in the planning

The best teachers are always planning new and innovative ways to bring concepts to life, says Chris Elsworthy

Q. Is there still a reluctance to embrace technology in schools from a teaching point of view, and what can we do to help promote the use of edtech in all schools?

A. No there isn’t. In fact, I’ve found that teachers generally want to use new technologies in the classroom, but only if they feel properly prepared and if those technologies help with learning.

As suppliers, we need to make sure that teachers feel empowered to use new edtech by providing them with some initial creative ideas, and showing them how it can add to, rather than distract from their teaching. We’re increasingly finding though that teachers know exactly how they want to use new edtech in their lessons, we just need to get them over the initial hurdle that comes with any new technology.

While it’s true that when we first started there was a substantial skills gap between teachers and their students, we’re finding that now teachers are increasingly on board. With 3D printing for example, while they may not have understood the benefits of the technology in the past and thought it was just a new gadget, they are now increasingly seeing how it can help to teach in all areas of the curriculum.

Q. Are budget restrictions a major factor as to why we are seeing a digital divide between teachers and their students? What can we do to improve this?

A. Budget restrictions will always have an impact on how far schools can invest in new tech, but they need not be a reason for a widening digital divide between students and their teachers. It does mean though that schools will increasingly have to justify the purchasing of new technology and show how it can benefit the entire school and not just one department, or for that matter, just one age group. From our own experience with 3D printing in schools we’ve found that the investment is much more worthwhile when teachers across the syllabus can make sure of the technology, as well as those teaching a wide range of ages. There’s no reason why 3D printers can’t be used to help teach history and maths as well as art and design.

Crucially though, most technology including 3D printing is becoming cheaper and much more user friendly. This makes for a shallower learning curve for any previously unsure teachers who might want to ensure they stay one step ahead of their students. 

The main reason we find any digital divide between teachers and their students is teachers not being supplied with adequate resources to put new technology to good use, whether it’s smartboards, tablets or 3D printers. The technology should never be the focus, but rather what the student learns when using it. 2D printers are useful because they can teach kids about graphic design, not how to ‘2D print’. Similarly 3D printers should be viewed in terms of how they can teach kids about 3D design, experimentation and material properties. 

Q. How often should schools look at training teaching staff to use the latest edtech, or is it more important that educators show initiative and take responsibility in keeping up with new developments?

A. The best teachers are always planning new and innovative ways to bring concepts to life so that children have the best learning experience and are ready for the world of tomorrow. It’s no surprise then that as teachers develop new lesson plans, they will increasingly use new technologies.

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Nevertheless, schools will always need to provide their staff with a certain level of training for new edtech, however it’s my opinion that the best edtech shouldn’t require much training at all to get started. Any software should be teacher friendly while also allowing kids to dig a little deeper so that they can really push themselves and show off their skills.

Any software should be teacher friendly while also allowing kids to dig a little deeper so that they can really push themselves and show off their skills

The best edtech should come with a wealth of resources for teachers to use and to get started whether it’s online or delivered at the point of sale. With 3D printing there’s already, for example, a huge store of design tutorials on YouTube and thousands of 3D models on MyMiniFactory. Of course as with anything though, the more the teacher shows the initiative, the more they will get out of any new technology.

Q. Do you think tech suppliers should as standard supply teacher training on their technology products?

A. We certainly do. Teachers have enough to do already without having to worry about how they can become technical experts and troubleshoot new technology. These days it’s important to recognise that training can take many diverse forms though, whether it’s online video tutorials, proactively training teachers in schools, or having helplines ready to go at all times. 

Importantly for some technologies, I believe that certain resources should accompany any new technology meant for the classroom. In the case of 3D printing this could include ‘base’ designs which students can customise or lesson plans to introduce kids to the concept of materials and properties. Teachers can then tailor that content for their lessons, but it provides a useful starting point for anyone who is new to the technology. 

Q. How important is it that teachers embrace social media rather than shy away from it? Do the benefits of using Twitter and Facebook to engage with students outweigh the potential risks?

A. While Twitter and Facebook may carry greater risks, teachers definitely shouldn’t shy away from other aspects of the social internet. Teachers can gain a lot from tapping into their students’ enthusiasm for sharing and collaboration which social networks encourage. 3D design is increasingly all about sharing and improving on the designs of others, with social sharing platforms like MyMiniFactory particularly big in the world of 3D printing. 

Kids love to share their best work – it’s the digital age equivalent of putting the best artwork on the walls of the classroom. Sharing can also encourage schools to engage in some friendly competition, whether it’s in their local area or across the world. So long as safeguards are in place, kids should be encouraged to engage with the social internet so they’re ready for a future economy which is increasingly based on sharing and collaboration.

Chris Elsworthy is CEO of CEL and creator of the Robox 3D printer

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