By Michele McFarlane
It was announced in 2014 that Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College would receive 300 tablets as part of the Tablet in Schools (TIS) Pilot Project. The excitement was palpable. In fact, Sam Sharpe was the only teacher training college to be selected for the Project. For some time, a major topic for discussion at the College was the TIS initiative. Very often there were debates, which sometimes became heated regarding the practicality of such a project. These conversations were held mainly in classes that featured the integration of technology as an instructional tool.
Amidst much excitement and in the presence of the Hon. Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining; and the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, Minister of Education, among others, the distribution of the tablets began on October 17, 2014. An estimated 250 tablets were delivered to students. This was in addition to the approximately 50 issued in August to the academic staff who received training in the use of various apps related to their areas of specialization, and caring for the devices.
Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College facilitates seven programmes in teacher training:
- Early Childhood Education
- Special Education
- Primary Education
- Language and Literature
- Mathematics and Science
- School Counselling.
Students pursue either full-time or part time course of study, at the end of which they earn a Bachelor of Education degree.
Presently, there is an enrollment of approximately 600 students. The decision was made to issue tablets to all Year Two and Year Three students as well as a small group of Year One students in the Early Childhood programme. The selection process was guided by various practical factors, such as:
- A complete body of year two and three students from all areas of specialization with tablets could better inform areas of research for further development at the college.
- The third year students were being prepared to engage in Teaching Practice in schools. A number of these schools were part of the TIS pilot.
- Students would have time to get acquainted with the tablets as an instructional tool.
- The Year Two and the selected Year One students would be able to actively learn and demonstrate the integration of technology in a teaching environment over the next two years.
Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College seeks to position itself as an e-smart college in the region and as such has goals in keeping with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for teachers and students. The increased use of technology and its integration into all facets of life demands that teachers acquire the skills and behaviours of the digital age. This being so, the teacher must become a co-learner and co-producer of knowledge with her students.
Curriculum specialists agree that for e-learning programmes to be successful, they should be introduced and supported at the teacher training level before or simultaneously with the students.
The central goal of the college therefore is to train and educate our pre-service teachers in an environment immersed in e-learning, always being cognizant of the multiplier effect this will have in schools. For example, the TIS project now makes it easier for students to complete assigned readings and view related content. There is also greater collaboration among peers to complete assignments, resulting in a higher compliance rate for group work and submission of assignments.
Lecturers use Schoology, a Learning Management System (LMS) that allows the students to participate in blended learning, which has the added advantage of reduced printing material. Overall, there has been improvement in the quality of work and attitude toward learning.
Students may be distracted by social media on the technology highway. However once appropriately engaged most students stay on task and use the tablets responsibly.
It is hoped that as teachers and students explore even further, we will adjust their position as passive recipients of information, moving towards becoming creators of content relevant to our own culture and realities.
Michele McFarlane (MET, MSc, B.Sc.,) is an Educational Technologist and Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Professional Studies at Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in Montego Bay.