Schools ‘must do better’ to realize digital dreams

Discussion in 'What's Happening in Shanghai' started by Edward, Aug 31, 2015.

  1. Edward

    Edward Curriculum R&D Administrator

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    By Yang Meiping | August 31, 2015, Monday |

    Students at an i-cloud class at Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School in Huangpu District. — Ti Gong

    THE target year for replacing all traditional textbooks in Shanghai schools with digital versions has been extended beyond 2015. It seems the transition hasn’t been quite as easy as ABC.

    In 2010, education authorities in Shanghai launched a five-year initiative called “e-schoolbag” to move classroom teaching and study into the cyber realm.

    Many schools have adopted a hybrid system using e-texts in tandem with traditional textbooks. A full conversion has been hampered by medical concerns about children’s eyesight, by parental worries that use of tablets might distract youngsters from actual study and harm their handwriting skills, and by fears that teachers will lose valuable personal contact with their pupils.

    Then, too, pilot projects involving e-schoolbag haven’t delivered concrete evidence of improvement in scores.

    Be more patient

    “Academic performance can be influenced by many factors, and we should not assess e-schoolbag by a single standard, like test scores,” said Wu Yonghe, deputy director of the educational information technology department at East China Normal University.

    “We need to be more patient and give teachers and students time to fully master the new skills before the initiative can be effectively judged.”

    At the start of e-schoolbag, pilot projects were rolled out in 18 primary, middle and high schools in the Hongkou District, with laptops, tablets and cellphones deployed for teaching and homework. It was then expanded to other districts.

    In the Huangpu District, Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School was one of the earliest schools to adopt e-schoolbag. Beginning in 2011, 50 iPads were provided to two math classes of fourth graders. The program was closely monitored to assess teaching efficiency, the children’s academic performance and any health repercussions.

    “We invited ophthalmologists to our school to check regularly on students’ vision,” said Principal Wu Rongjin. “They suggested we limit the use of tablets to 15 minutes in each 35-minute class.”

    The school, with funds provided by the Shanghai Education Commission, invited an IT company to develop an “i-cloud class,” where classwork would be distributed digitally to students, according to their level of ability, she said.

    Teachers found the new system helpful. They no longer had to collect test papers and mark them. The system automatically delivered the performance of each student, allowing teachers to tailor their teaching. The system also provided information such as the frequency of wrong answers on tests.

    “The i-cloud class has really improved classroom efficiency and reduced teachers’ workloads,” Wu said. “And we are happy to find that boys, who used to tend to be quieter and less responsive in class, became as active as the girls.”

    The program was eventually expanded to all subjects for second-to-fifth grades and upgraded to allow feedback from teachers and students. The 15-minute rule was introduced on tablet use.

    “It was not only for health reasons, but also for practical concerns,” she said, “We want the system to improve teaching efficiency and give our teachers better feedback on how students are doing. It’s not just a matter of digitizing textbooks. Not every part of teaching requires an iPad.”

    Still, digital classrooms remain somewhat contentious. Many parents are dubious about breaking with old, established traditions of teaching. Many believe their children already spend too much time on digital devices away from school.

    To relieve that anxiety, Luwan No.1 Central Primary School and others have added special locking devices enabling teachers to limit students’ screens to teaching apps.

    The development of digital classrooms has been uneven across Shanghai.

    In Minhang, where e-schoolbag was launched three years ago, 68 schools, or slightly more than half the schools in the district, are participating, Yun Minxia, director of the Minhang Institute of Education, told Shanghai Daily.

    But at Minhang Experimental Primary School, which has adopted the program, “no prominent progress has been made yet,” said school principal He Xuefeng.

    “Personally, I would rather focus on training teachers to ensure education quality, rather than focusing on this digital program,” he said. “We encourage teachers interested in the program to design their own teaching plans accordingly, but it’s not our key job.”

    Still, He said he believes digital classrooms are the way of the future.

    “But it needs time and investment to accumulate enough courseware to form a digital curriculum,” he said. “That should really be done comprehensively by education authorities and not by individual schools.”

    The Minhang Institute of Education’s Yun said that sort of attitude highlights a bottleneck in fuller implementation of e-schoolbag.

    “Negativity and sluggishness come into play when participants find that something new requires more time and energy. Teachers have to master new technology, redesign class plans and change their existing ways of teaching and evaluating students.”

    Yun said many older teachers have trouble digesting all the new-fangled technology. Some of them still go down the class rows, from desk to desk, to see how the pupils are faring on a quiz rather than waiting for computers to give them the results.

    “Teachers are at different levels with the e-schoolbag program,” said Yun, “Some are masters of the game and can organize their classes with the devices in creative ways. Others have reached a more mediocre level of applying the technology. And some just don’t want to try at all.”
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  2. Crystal

    Crystal Coordinator

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