Pens and paper have no place in the modern classroom. And chalkboards? They should be banished from our schools too.
That’s what Lia De Cicco Remu, director of Partners in Learning at Microsoft Canada, told the Georgia Straight ahead of the Microsoft Summit 2015 in Vancouver, which is set to be attended by around 200 teachers.
“When was the last time you used a piece of chalk to express yourself?” De Cicco Remu, a former teacher, asked by phone from Toronto. “Kids don’t express themselves with chalk or in cursive. Kids text.”
On May 23, the Microsoft Summit will take place at UBC’s Point Grey campus. LEARNstyle CEO DJ Cunningham is slated to be the keynote speaker.
Tickets for the education-focused event, which includes interactive demonstrations and hands-on workshops featuring Microsoft products, cost $25.
“It’s a way for teachers to get the professional development they need to bring relevant teaching practices into the classroom right now, because our kids are getting killed,” De Cicco Remu said. “They’re not getting the teaching style that they need for now and for the future. We’re still teaching them the way we did a hundred years ago.”
According to De Cicco Remu, both teachers and students are already using the latest digital technology to communicate outside of the classroom. She asserted that teachers need to “start rolling with the way these kids communicate”.
“We need to go to them to understand what they’re doing and to teach them how to direct that in a way that’s going to lead to their success in the future. Right now, we’re in the midst of this very difficult shift, because we don’t get it and we’re trying to understand it. That, for a teacher, can be terrifying.”
De Cicco Remu argued that good pedagogy must be “layered” with the appropriate technology to be relevant to students. She highlighted Office 365 and OneNote as Microsoft products well-suited for the classroom.
“Why do you expect a kid to go to school and sit in the same seat everyday with pens and paper?” De Cicco Remu asked. “When they come home, they’ve got all these devices and they’re gaming and they’re doing all this great stuff online, and the expectation at school is to do something radically different. Would you want to do it? I wouldn’t want to do it.”
Asked what today’s classroom should look like, De Cicco Remu cited that of Zoe Branigan-Pipe, a teacher in Hamilton, Ontario. De Cicco Remu noted Branigan-Pipe teaches in a “hub” featuring 3-D printers, computers, couches, and Lego.
“She talks about authentic learning places,” De Cicco Remu said. “So classroom—what classroom? Learning is anytime, anywhere. Kids are learning everywhere. As long as they have that device and they have that connectivity to the cloud, they can do their work anywhere. So that’s why the tools become so important.”
De Cicco Remu pointed out that the role of teachers is changing from “sage on the stage to facilitator to activator”. This kind of teaching and learning requires “open spaces”, she maintained.
“Our schools are like jails—brick walls, colourless, not very engaging or exciting,” De Cicco Remu said.
Throwing out pens, paper, and chalkboards—not to mention print textbooks—doesn’t mean that schools should abandon writing all together, according to De Cicco Remu. With a stylus and a tablet, kids can still cognitively benefit from the digitized practice of “inking”, she explained.
For teachers skeptical about new technology’s place in the classroom, she has a message.
“Shift or get off the pot,” De Cicco Remu said. “Seriously, it’s not fair to the kids. It’s tough at the outset to understand and learn all these tools, but you’re doing a disservice to our students and these kids’ futures if you don’t. And that’s your job.”