For many young people, September means ‘back to school’, whether that is a primary or secondary school, or maybe university or college. But as the summer holiday winds down and shops start stocking school uniforms and promoting their pens, pencils and notepads, take a moment to think about what might be on the curriculum, and how it might be taught. Schools have changed a lot in recent years. Since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when a handful of microcomputers with blinking command lines first entered the classroom, technology has transformed how we learn and what we learn. Geography can be explored with interactive maps; students can collaborate with their peers on the other side of the world; history can be brought to life with recreations of ancient cities in virtual reality; science experiments that were once the preserve of laboratories can come into the classroom with computer modelling. One school even built a small satellite that was launched into space!
There are huge opportunities for better learning as a result of computers in schools, universities and colleges. Key to taking advantage of those opportunities are digital skills. We wrote about an OECD study, earlier this month, that shows that when schools are equipped with computers in the classroom, it is vital that both teachers and students develop strong ICT skills to benefit the most. So what are some of the skills that will help the most as the new school term starts?
Working Together Online
The internet, and the possibilities for research and collaboration that it offers, is one of the most revolutionary aspects of computers at school. Information isn’t limited to what can be fitted into a textbook anymore: students can access information from first-hand sources, multimedia clips, library collections and academic articles. Thanks to collaborative tools like Google Docs or Microsoft Word Online, it is becoming easier than ever to collaborate on joint projects.
While it may be a long-lived and basic tool on most computers, the humble word processor is indispensable for essays, reports, and projects at all levels of education. Becoming familiar with features like text formatting, citations and references, and layout can make it easy to produce coursework that is clear and coherent, showing off the knowledge and experience that students have gained in the best light.
Though some work can be submitted as written essays or papers, presenting to the class can be a great way to develop confidence, public speaking skills, and learn how to concisely present information. Knowing your way around presentation software is vital to being able to show the findings of a class science project or explain the history of your local area.
In many cases, especially in sciences, learning can involve conducting experiments or research to explore classroom topics from how light behaves, to simple psychology or the basics of statistics. Spreadsheets can offer the ability to bring together the results of this work and examine and present it with features like formulae and graphs.
Staying Safe Online
As well as its many opportunities, computers, and the internet, bring potential dangers that haven’t existed before: cyberbullying, online privacy and the risks of online stalking and grooming of children are just a few of the hazards that young people can face when using technology. Thankfully, learning about the dangers, and how to deal with problems, can go a long way towards making the internet a safer place.
There are lots of ways that computers are used in the classroom, from kindergarten and reception classes, all the way to further and higher education. Digital skills are a core set of skills, alongside numeracy and literacy, that need to be developed from the earliest stages at school. The risks for students lacking digital competences are great, both in education and later in life. When we have so many new possibilities thanks to computers, students who don’t have the right skills miss out on learning opportunities that other students will receive. Later on, young people who haven’t developed strong ICT skills will be at a disadvantage in a job market that increasingly sees digital skills as a prerequisite.
If you’re getting ready to go back to school, or if you’re busy getting your kids ready, why not take a moment to think about how you can develop your digital skills and excel over the coming year. Certification programmes, like ECDL, which is already used in many schools around the world, offer a way of building and proving your digital abilities. With modules such as Word Processing, Online Collaboration, IT Security, Online Essentials, Spreadsheets and Presentations, there are many ways to get the skills that will help you get the most out of learning.