Digital age sees teachers reinvent the classroom says Notre Dame academic

Associate Professor Dr Boris Handal

29 June 2015

The use of mobile devices including smart phones and tablets can empower students to learn, according to the latest research from Associate Professor Dr Boris Handal, from The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Sydney Campus.

Dr Handal said there was a new profile of students emerging from the current digital era with mobile devices changing the way students approached learning – a dynamic he said needed to be better harnessed by educators.

“We are at a turning point in history and schools need to modernise to maintain their relevance, otherwise, the new generation of students may begin to feel disconnected from school learning and we may ultimately lose them,” Dr Handal said.

The findings follow a one year research program by Dr Handal looking at best practice from leading schools, academics and educators from United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. His research, focused on the use of mobile devices in schools, will be published in a book entitled Mobile Makes Learning Free: Building Conceptual, Professional and Institutional Capacity later this year.

Dr Handal said students were getting information online quicker than from teachers and schools. “They see the internet as a source of information that comes up without delay or intermediaries which means they are becoming more self-reliant and autonomous in their learning,” he said. “If we add the fact that online tools are more dynamic than textbooks and worksheets, it becomes obvious that there is a dissonance between in-school and out-of-school learning.”

He said as mobile devices became increasingly more widespread, schools needed to capitalise, rather than discourage, smartphones and tablets, streamlining them into their teaching programs.

“There is a lot of evidence showing that when mobile devices are welcomed within an instructional context students feel more connected and empowered, he said. “Technology makes a significant difference in the quality of education, kids are more engaged than before and therefore need to be provided with learning tools according to this new age,” he said.

“With mobile devices students do not need to go to a computer lab as interacting with online data can occur at any time inside or outside the classroom such in science or physical education,” he said. “Students can visualise themselves travelling throughout the universe, obtain in real time geographical data such as temperature, atmospheric pressure, capital city or events happening in the world; they can engage in complex experiments in class without resorting to dangerous substances, model real-life situations into mathematics frameworks, create synamic literary works and produce assignments in multimedia format rather than using paper and pencil.”

Dr Handal said in his school visits he saw classes from one part of the world interacting through video-conferencing with another class in a different country. “I think these tools are very useful in creating a conscience about the unity of mankind and an appreciation for ways of living in other cultures,” he said.

Dr Handal said the digital age had also changed the way students learnt. “Learning no longer follows a linear problem solving strategy but is moving back and forth, non-sequentially,” he said. “Students are leaping, not unlike a grasshopper, from one concept to another looking to grasp the main ideas quickly rather than the traditional learning format of relying heavily on an analytical and logical problem solving format.”

Dr Handal said it was imperative educators addressed the issue and provide more choice to students because this was a generation who have never known life without the internet and mobile phone. He said this would need to incorporate both traditional and contemporary digital learning methods while also changing the teaching environment.

“Students are very comfortable in a digital environment and best practice in schools could mean providing physical learning spaces for mobility collaboration rather than requiring students to sit passively in rows.”

Dr Handal added that teachers might find that at times students know more than them or that students do not need them. “Teachers must be more learning managers rather than sages on the stage, we really are at a turning point in history and schools need to modernise to maintain their relevance.”

Dr Handal said programs at Notre Dame had been adjusted to up-skill education students with more contemporary digital and pedagogical skills in preparation to their future work in schools.

Theresa Kyne: Tel (02) 8204 4141; Mob: 0407 408 177;