Education is changing and such changes are indeed helping the thwarted sector come to alignment with steady steps.
Talking about the change and many other related aspects to it, EdTechReview reached out to Ritu Sehji is an Author of Food Technology and Nutrition, Head of Food Technology and a Professional Learning Group Facilitator at Westlake Boys School, Forrest Hill, Auckland, New Zealand. She is an educator, a global presenter and has a passion for teaching and learning in the field of Technology education.
As an individual, she is an advocate of continuous learning and her determination to learn is something that is contagious. She is a visionary and her step of reform taken up in her school speaks volume about it.
We put forward certain questions related to her personal experience in the profession, what is her views on the inclusion of technology in pedagogy and on the changing scenario of teaching as well as breaking up of the silo mentality prevailing in the education system.
Here is Part 1 of the interview with her.
1. How has the definition of teaching changed or evolved in recent times? Has technology played a role in the same?
Today, more than ever before teaching is informed by research into all aspects of education, neuroscience and effective pedagogy. Pedagogy is accelerated by the use of technology and digital tools. The perceptions and myths that once were, are now been broken down on a regular basis. It has its pros and cons. On one hand, technology has narrowed the gap, creating equal opportunities for all while, on the other hand, it has also widened the gap- that of the have nots and they have all. I believe the question teachers must ask themselves is “Is teaching just subject-specific knowledge and skills enough for our 21st-century learners?”
How I use Technology?
Although I had used a PC before, the first time I had a laptop was in 2001 as a beginning teacher. I taught myself computer skills and leaping right into it, and now, I don’t consider myself an expert, I’m certainly an enthusiast.
At private schools in New Zealand, all students bring their own devices. In most cases, these include a laptop and/or a tablet, a smartphone. But this varies at State Schools as not all students might have access to a personal device and computer labs or notebooks may still have to be booked. The teachers have to be equipped for all kinds of scenario and essentially be able to adapt. After having taught at a private school for 8 years when I moved to a state school, I had to do just that. My current school was not a BYOD school, so I had to review, re-imagine and redesign my teaching pedagogy. Most students had a smartphone, so I started using more mobile-friendly tools and applications. Constraints in a way taught me to be more creative. Example, I use TED-Ed to create lessons online which allows me to show rather than tell. I use innovative ways in which to teach content beyond just my discipline and create opportunities to learn by doing.
Personally, I find that technology makes it easier for students to teach each other or collaborate. At Westlake Boys, we have a lot of international ESOL students who find it difficult to follow the instructions in English as newcomers, but I have observed that if they can work together around a tablet or a device, they tend to help each other, especially by using translating tools or through collaborative discussions.
Being on Twitter, gathering student voice proactively and Ako have been a real game changer for me. I realised that some of my students were on several different social media platforms, I wanted my students to start using social media for learning, to see it’s potential to extend their learning and growth, I have set up a school Twitter handle @foodwbhs for my food technology students, where I put relevant research and updates for my learners to extend learning beyond the classroom hours. I use OneNote which is easily accessible on their mobiles. Using Microsoft Teams has created so many opportunities for assessments, conversations and drop space for collaboration etc.
“Technology has enabled me to mentor students across schools and even those who I have never ever taught. At one point in 2015, I was helping students at three different schools by giving feedback and feedforward via Google Docs. I can also mentor other teachers in New Zealand online and through sharing my presentations and pedagogy.”
2. What From the Present-Day Education System Excites or Inspires You?
Present day education is mostly about building excitement and enthusiasm every day for everyone – staff, students, teachers and community. It is much wider than in our classrooms. The possibilities and opportunities for all in it to grow are endless. Connecting and collaborating with teachers around the world is now at our fingertips. Professional learning is no longer just limited to conferences but is available 24/7 in our own space and time via social media platforms and use of digital tools.
What Excites Me?
I love being able to engage with parents as well as students much more fully through technology. I can also share work with parents, rather than just meeting them once at “Meet the Parents” evenings. In the past, I have invited parents into my classroom in a bid to share course outlines, systems and the social media platforms I use for education, so they can engage and partner more fully in their child’s education if they wish to.
Working online means nowadays students don’t forget their work at home. Ongoing resources, frequent checks and feedforward have also, in fact, lifted the students’ grades in my classes.
My students often collaborate with students at school within New Zealand, Mumbai, US, and Brazil on Skype. This helps us collectively, to learn about international cuisines and culture.
The ability to work and learn across disciplines is becoming more and more prevalent. Here are some of my student projects (past and present) that offer cross-curricular links and real-world authentic briefs.
Teaching Snapshots and Student Showcase on Technology Online
Technology Online is a site dedicated to educators, students, and all those with an interest in technology education in New Zealand. It showcases examples of contemporary teaching and learning and provides curriculum support materials.
3. The 'Silo Mentality' is fundamental challenge schools are facing today. What according to you are few fundamental approaches to break the barriers?
Silo Mentality is a mindset and more often people are comfortable working by themselves within their limitations in fear of getting things wrong or in anticipation of the judgement they may face, if they stepped out.
Some of these key approaches could be useful in breaking down silos
1. Encourage and listen to staff and student voice
2. Give everything a go – take risks and try things for if you don’t you will never know if it works with your staff and learners.
Lot of teachers are scared of trying something new they are not confident with or does not fit in the mold, with their students. If in doubt, speak with your learners and colleagues to seek out their views and opinions. They may even offer to help and support.
3. Think integrated learning when planning lessons – move away from single topic lessons and incorporate real world concepts.
4. Keep learning yourself, go global – keep upskilling, growing and evolving
Connect with educators around the world and seek out professional development opportunities.
Some have concerns about being available on social media 24/7, but in reality, you don’t need to disappear down a rabbit hole. It’s your choice whether to engage or not, and technology can free you to spend more time at home to upload resources rather than staying back at school thus extending teaching beyond school hours.
Through joining professional learning networks, there’s always someone out there to answer your questions and they might be just a tweet away.
5. Learn with and from your students
Students now have a lot more control, which can be scary for teachers but there is an opportunity for you to learn from them too.
6. Work towards common goals using collaborative tools and communicate often with your colleagues
7. Most of all behaviors and mindsets need to change but first we need to identify what behaviors and mindsets need to change and to this change effort, what barriers need to be broken down?
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview where we discuss with her on her school’s approach to teachers professional development, personal initiatives taken by her to learn and help others in the community shape their professional craft and technology’s instrumental role in leveling up pedagogy.