Teachers come up with solutions to build 21st century skills among students at a recent global gathering for educators.
FOR a teacher, conducting a technology-infused lesson is not as easy as teaching from the board and telling students to submit homework in the traditional form – the exercise book.
It means familiarising oneself with technology tools, turning textbook content into interactive lessons online and making a requirement for students to complete their homework electronically.
A moment of pride: Nur Riza (fifth from left) and her team with Salcito (third from left) at the awards ceremony.
Sometimes, it also means carrying a laptop and an LCD projector to class, setting up the devices and ensuring that the Internet connection works.
One needs to prepare a backup plan, too, such as downloading videos or preparing handouts, in case a technical glitch occurs.
These are some of the extra efforts innovative teachers like Nur Riza Alias, Hemawathi Gopinathan, Mohd Norhafeez Jusoh and Azizul Othman have taken upon themselves.
Their reward is in seeing students excited, engaged and encouraged.
Their undertakings have proven to be worthwhile. They have not only been recognised as Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) experts, but have also won a spot at the 2016 Microsoft Global Educator Exchange (E2) held in Budapest, Hungary, recently.
The three-day event saw the Malaysian teachers banding together with 300 of their counterparts from around the world to exchange ideas, collaborate and find good solutions to use in the classroom.
In addition, their keen desire to qualify as a Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) was fulfilled when they sat for exams to gain certification in Budapest and passed.
According to Microsoft, the MCE certification validates that educators have the technology literacy competencies to provide a rich, custom learning experience for students.
“Passing the MCE exam is very important to us. It gives us the assurance that we have the skill set to integrate technology in the classroom and to assist students and other teachers in developing 21st century skills,” said Hemawathi, an English and Moral Studies teacher at SMK Yam Tuan Radin, Negri Sembilan.
The awards were the culmination of their group efforts in designing classroom “hacks” using Office Mix, a free extension to PowerPoint with interactive features like audio and video narration.
In their respective teams, the teachers worked to identify a common problem they all shared in the classroom, and proposed a “hack” or innovative solution that matched their assigned “hacker personas”.
Their teams were among 15 top three winners selected across five “hacker persona” categories.
“It was a big night for us. We were in three different teams but to our surprise, all three teams won the challenge. It was amazing and we just couldn’t believe it.
“The competition was tough as there were a total of 50 groups. My team worked really hard for the project and up to the point of submission, we were still having discussions,” said Nur Riza.
An English teacher at SMK Tanjung Datuk, Johor, she was recently transferred to SMK Subang Bestari, Selangor.
Her team focused on getting students to be attentive during the first five minutes of a lesson, deemed the most crucial part.
Their project submission earned them the third place in the Gamify Category. It focused on “gamifying’ the initial five minutes. Gamify in this context means challenging students to complete a task and incorporating game elements like competition and reward, to get them interested.
“Our Office Mix shows how teachers can collect students’ points, convert scores into data and check progress via Excel,” she said, adding that students could view the scoreboard and be fuelled by the desire to reach the top tier.
Mohd Norhafeez worked with his team to come up with personalised learning which had to meet the needs of all students.
The first runner-up in the Personalise Category, his team addressed the lack of global citizenship among students.
As a solution, they designed an activity for students from five countries to collaborate on a task, which required them to use Minecraft, a video game, to build structures that depict the attractions in their respective countries.
“The activity develops creativity in students, and encourages peer teaching, communication, and sharing of global ideas,” said Mohd Norhafeez, a Biology teacher at MRSM Tun Mustapha in Tawau, Sabah.
“It also compels students to engage technology tools and develop digital awareness – all in a safe online environment,” he added, explaining that students could use OneNote to carry out online planning and collaboration, and Skype for communication, apart from going on Minecraft to work on the actual task.
In the Strategise Category, Hemawathi and her team took the second spot. The team identified the lack of student engagement in the classroom as a universal problem.
Their solution? Getting them to share what they want to learn on OneNote and then making decisions based on student feedback.
For the uninitiated, OneNote is a note-taking app designed by Microsoft that allows users to create digital notebooks where they jot down ideas, share information and collaborate with others.
The OneNote Class Notebook makes it easier for teachers to create interactive lessons, organise their lesson plans and course content, keep track of student work, and collaborate with students and colleagues.
The recently-released OneNote Class Notebook Add-in was designed to support teachers.
“There was much emphasis on the use of OneNote in the classroom. Most teachers we met at the E2 are using it to share information and monitor their students’ work and discussions,” said Azizul, a Biology teacher at MRSM Johor Baru, Johor.
He added that he had at the educator exchange, learnt more functions of OneNote to incorporate in his classroom.
At the E2, Skype was another application recommended as a useful educational tool to expand collaboration and interaction.
Through Skype, teachers can organise virtual field trips by setting up “tours” to places like museums or classrooms in another part of the world.
Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe president Don Grantham, in his opening speech, affirmed the potential of Skype to transform education.
“It engages and unites educators and students around the world; it enables students to learn from each other, sparks imagination, encourages global citizenship, and prepares everyone for a truly connected world,” he said.
Such innovative global classroom collaboration was an eye-opening experience for Nur Riza.
“It gave me the idea of extending collaboration beyond the classroom and even globally. Before this, student collaboration in my class had always been among classmates,” she said.
Focus on the five Cs
Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and computational thinking – these were the five Cs promoted as essential life skills for 21st century learners at the E2.
Microsoft Worldwide Education vice president Anthony Salcito said that they are the “foundation or arsenal that every student needs to succeed in life and the workforce”.
“The core elements of education are shifting to one that is focused on skills. Employers are valuing the needs for entrepreneurship, creation, collaboration and computational thinking,” he said.
Salcito highlighted the need for teachers to expand their innovations and provide immersive activities. This was to enable them to develop skills which would help students to not only progress across their core disciplines and subjects, but become more employable later in life.
Addressing the E2 participants, Grantham also underscored the importance of ensuring students have the digital skills to become tomorrow’s innovators and leaders.
“It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market,” he said.
Grantham said that the European Commission had stated that by 2020, almost all jobs (90%) would require some level of digital skills; and there could be as many as 825,000 unfilled vacancies for IT professionals around the world.
“It is a huge challenge but also a fantastic opportunity. If we can assist students in building digital skills, we can help them to find their place in the workplace and reverse youth unemployment,” he said.
As part of its mission to empower 1.4 billion students around the world to achieve more, Microsoft has been working together with teachers and students to create and share technologies in new ways.
Worldwide, it has over 1.5 million teachers and school leaders in its Educator Community, thousands of MIE experts and hundreds of Microsoft Showcase Schools. They lead the way in creating a school learning environment empowered by technology.
From listening to the keynote speeches to collaborating with their teams to design classroom hacks, the Malaysian teachers came away buzzing with inspiration to use technology to maximise impact on learning.
As MIEs, it is also their job now to inspire their peers to take on innovations and explore new ideas of teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.
“Teachers should not be afraid of using technology. It is an enabler, not an obstacle. We need to equip students with digital skills and prepare them for the future,” said Mohd Norhafeez.
Nur Riza added, “Skype and many other tools are the technologies of today, not tomorrow. Stay current. The world of education is transforming, whether you like it or not. Your students stand to lose if you don’t keep up.”
“The teachers at the E2 are tech-savvy, regardless of their age, which goes to show that technology is not just for new or young teachers but for everyone to use,” she emphasised.
Tamas Deutsch, the commissioner of the Hungarian Digital Success Programme, said, “A nation’s strength lies in the abundance of people equipped with digital skills.
“The traditional ways of employment are also changing. It’s wise for everyone to prepare their own digital strategy.”