Wingate Seminar makes teachers upwardly mobile


13 May 2009 Teachers at the 10th annual Wingate Seminar have been excited by the prospect of wireless technology enabling them to take students out of the classroom and into more stimulating environments. The seminar, sponsored by the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, has brought 16 educators from Argentina, Bulgaria, France, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, Uruguay and the USA to ORT House in London to hear from world experts on the use of wireless and mobile technologies for learning. The intensive, week-long seminar has been an eye-opener for many of the participants, such as Lina Lopez Valls, who develops and implements educational programmes at the Colegio Hebreo Maguen David in Mexico City. It has been a great experience, Ive learned a lot, Ms Lopez said. It could be very good to use some of the mobile devices we have seen into everyday teaching. It could be shocking in the beginning, however. We are always fighting with the students not to use their mobile telephones in class now we could be asking them to bring them to class in order to use them! Mobile phones are just one aspect of technologies which seminar participants have been learning about this week; other gadgets include the Nova data loggers which World ORT has supplied to dozens of Israeli schools as part of the Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), small, hand-held computers. The beauty of this technology is that it facilitates learning outside the confines of the classroom, said Dr Yakov Ronkin, who is World ORTs Research and Development Coordinator. It takes away the classroom walls and expands the education process; you can learn anywhere and at any time. Imagine collecting data for biology by tapping into your PDA as you examine the flora and fauna in different ecosystems or researching a history project in the museum or at an archaeological site using a GPS-connected kit produced by Wildknowledge UK, whose equipment was the focus of a workshop led by the companys Director, Neil Bailey. The application suite provides a toolkit for students of all ages to capture data at points of inspiration enhancing learning outside the classroom, Mr Bailey said. Another advantage is the widespread availability of the technology even in remote areas and in developing countries. We discussed the fact that these technologies are more or less universal, said Dr John Traxler, Director of the Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton, who reviewed the achievements of using mobile technologies to deliver education in southern Africa. In the developing world all they have are mobile phones, he said. In southern Africa, for example, mobile technology is the only viable form of e-learning people cant afford PCs and dont have anywhere secure to keep one. And mobile networks are more resilient and well developed than other infrastructures. Smadar Avidan, Physics Studies Coordinator at Makif Aleph High School in Beer Sheva, said she was particularly impressed by the Wildknowledge tools and the student response systems showcased by Rob Anderson of Qwizdom. The fact that in Israel we write from right to left can be a problem for some of these tools, Ms Avidan said. But the Seminar has inspired me to seek similar solutions that may already be adapted for use in Israel. Like other participants, Ms Avidan greatly appreciated the opportunity the Seminar afforded to meet peers and share experiences and ideas. Only half-way through the Seminar and participants were already discussing the creation of a structure by which they could keep in contact to exchange ideas and share solutions. Its interesting how similar our experiences are in some respects, Ms Avidan said. We have found that many governments can put a lot of money into equipment but they have a problem in training teachers. And without adequate training teachers can feel intimidated using new technology because they worry that their students will be able to use it better and faster than them. Indeed, it is childrens very familiarity with mobile and wireless technologies from mobile phones to hand-held computers, games consoles, iPod media players, anything which connects people and delivers images and ideas that people can learn from and discuss in Dr Traxlers words which is one of the great advantages of using them in education. Computer Science specialist Dr Aleksandr Fradkov, the Director of ORT Samara in Russia, said using the kinds of gadgets presented at the Seminar enthused children. Computers are very attractive to children and using mobile computerised devices in the field makes the experience more enjoyable for them, Dr Fradkov said. The technology not only allows them to collect dates more quickly, the children themselves want to do more. And not only the children Dr Fradkov said the Seminar had inspired him to try new things on his return to Samara, such as the Wildknowledge systems. It is not only the teachers who appreciate the training opportunity that the Seminar represents. Professor Jonathan Drori, Chairman of the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, said the Foundation was happy to be associated with the Seminar because of the value of teacher training and their confidence in World ORT to manage it. You get a lot of value for money if you train teachers to be better teachers, Professor Drori said. Theres a financial leverage because they are going to train other people. And we think the Seminar is a good way to get to teachers. Christine Cook, who teaches English at ORT Strasbourg, is one of those who will show others the possibilities of enhancing the educational process through the use of mobile technologies. I dont think this technology is very suitable for language classes, she said. But I havent been thinking only of my subject. I can see the potential of the technology for other subjects. I have learned a lot and I have been inspired by the experiences of other schools, such as the use of the Nova data loggers in Israel, so I have many interesting things to share with my colleagues in Strasbourg. Ms Cook said she particularly liked the balance struck in the Seminars presentations and workshops between the theoretical and practical, as well as ecological and ethical, aspects of the technology. Its really offered and opened a whole range of possibilities, she said. But, as World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said in welcoming the Seminar participants, modern technology offers unparalleled opportunities for educators but novelty itself is not a guarantee of improvement. The Wingate Seminar, therefore, allowed participants to carefully evaluate innovative educational ideas and to determine how to make them work for us. Mr Singer thanked the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation for its continued support of the Seminar and its faith in World ORTs ability to make a difference. Noting that previous seminars had each incrementally advanced educational provision within World ORT, and so develop the organisations reputation as a world class educational network, he reminded this years participants of the role they would play in continuing this process. The seminars themselves can necessarily only reach a very small number of our educators, but we rely on our participants to share the knowledge and experience that they gain during the week with their colleagues and students. In this way they, too, will benefit from the Seminar and the level of the World ORT education network will continue to rise.