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How to avoid technophobia in the classroom: from the idea to full integration of technology

Are you technophobic? Many teachers, as well as many people in society today, are afraid to use technology. This is primarily due to not fully understanding how computer technology works, along with not knowing how to effectively integrate technology into their work routine. Every teacher wants to use the best tools to help their students learn, but as useful as it can be, technology integration requires long-term staff development time.

Technology integration can be challenging at times, especially on those days when glitches occur. In many cases, these are small glitches, which for experienced technology users are not a problem. However, as states, for novice users, they can be insurmountable. As with all teaching strategies and techniques, there are bumps along the way, which can always be overcome with experience.

Many teachers have transformed what was once nothing more than an idea into full or partial technology integration. They all needed help and support to get where they are today. One thing to remember is that support can come from many surprising places and that keeping an open mind is critical to success in overcoming technophobia. The following tips are based on bumps in the road and technology glitches that appeared in inopportune times.

Basic computer skills are a foundation

In today’s increasingly technology-reliant society, students must learn a basic set of computing skills. Typing, inserting images, searching the internet, and creating graphs and presentations are skills most careers expect of their employees. These basic computing skills provide a foundation for students. That being said, these are also skills that most children can proficiently perform during their middle school years.

Basic computing skills are important but are only a foundation that can then be used to improve 21st-century expertise. Information, media, and technology skills include many of the basics introduced to students, but when these same requirements are used to support others, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, innovation, and career or core subject knowledge, computing becomes engaging and not another rote exercise.

Ask for help to avoid technophobia

There is always someone available in a school to offer technological help. Every school has several technology-savvy teachers today. Some schools even have on-site technology integration specialists or coaches. Do not be afraid to ask for help, because this leads to a better understanding. Just like teachers tell their students every day, there is no such thing as a dumb question.

Learn from students

This does not lead to students thinking you are not in control of the classroom. Students love it when they can share their knowledge with others, especially adults. Many teachers have been able to learn new strategies and techniques from their students. Specific students can also act as technology mentors to other students in the classroom.

Web 2.0 technology integration one step at a time

Begin with Twitter to communicate with other teachers and let students communicate with other students while working on simple projects. Then move to Google Docs to allow students to collaborate on writing projects, presentations, spreadsheets, and develop forms for collecting information. These two tools can be used in any type of collaborative classroom project. The year after, begin to integrate a Wiki or blog into teaching and learning.

Define classroom projects using technology clearly

This is a critical point to ensure that students do not go astray. Provide students with a rubric that clearly defines project expectations, which also provides indirect communication with parents about the project. On many occasions, project and technology issues are merely a result of misinformation, which the use of rubrics resolves. The key is to be specific, however, leaving room for student inquiry.

Allow students freedom under a watchful eye

Become a coach, mentor, and guide for your students—watch them, learn from them, and keep them on track. Teachers’ responsibilities are not relinquished and they sometimes have to lay down the law; however, this becomes less of a problem as students learn to use technology. Let them explore, create, and develop a better understanding of the concepts they are learning.

Making connections with technology

Problem Based Learning (PBL) presents opportunities for teachers to integrate technology in most content areas. PBL integrates common resources for students to collaborate as they solve challenging problems. This strategy allows teachers to move slowly, seek help when needed, and allows their students the freedom to be creative.

Computer activities that support 21st century skills

Integrating technology into a lesson can be a daunting task, but some activities can be simpler to include than others. Research is perhaps the easiest, incorporating many information technology skills, but can go to a higher level when students use their research to create something new or determine a solution to an unusual problem.

Other activities might involve some training or experience on the teacher’s end before introducing the concepts to students. Students could use technology to communicate with other students living in another state or country while creating a project or determining the solution to a problem. They can use special software to create a documentary about a historical event, create an animation to illustrate a story or discuss the meaning of a poem. In each example, students are expected to use higher-order thinking skills, problem-solving skills, collaborate, and be creative in the context of a specific subject. The difference between this and many rigorous activities already present in classrooms is the use of technology.

As sex ed classes become obsolete among teenagers, video games might just be the way forward

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March, 2020. It was the day after Activision released its free-to-play battle royale game Call Of Duty: Warzone and a little over a week before Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons. One year later, these two games have essentially reshaped our lives over the pandemic, providing comforts of escapism and helping build socially-distanced friendships via multiplayer. But what if such gamification models could redefine today’s digital-first education system, particularly for those subjects which require ‘interactive tools’ for better understanding? What if contemporary sex education was meant to be taught through video games?

The challenging shift to online sex education

In an era where mornings have become synonymous with Zoom links and clean backgrounds for students, schools are increasingly prioritising what gets taught online. As subjects like physics and physical education go online, much of the curriculum is getting lost in translation from the real to the virtual world. And sex education is no exception.

“There’s already lots of cultural stigma around something like saying the word ‘penis’ in a room full of people who are under 18,” said Karen Rayne, the executive director of UNHUSHED, a non-profit that offers sex education for schools with the aims to remove the stigma surrounding them. In an interview with US News, she illustrated the challenges of teaching homebound teenagers and college students who are “attending classes from their childhood bedrooms” about the birds and the bees.

Not long after the pandemic hit, Rayne, who also teaches human sexuality at the University of Texas at Austin, created a manifesto outlining 10 tips for teaching online sex ed. These tips include being mindful of students’ developmental stages, expecting some awkwardness and looping in parents.

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Despite her efforts, however, she admitted that some students were in fact being left behind in classes. “After so many months online, we were beginning to lose some kids in a way that I wasn’t really concerned about in March or April (2020),” she said. “It might be that for some kids, sex ed is not where they need to spend their limited online learning hours.”

A paper published by Leslie Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers University School of Public Health, further spelled out why teaching reproductive health during a pandemic is critical and how schools should prioritise the same. “Even when in-person schooling resumes, missed sex education is unlikely to be made up, given the modest attention it received prior to the pandemic,” the paper concluded, which has essentially hatched a sense of urgency at the educational forefront.

As teachers scramble to come up with innovative ways to “translate what we learned about effective, in-person sex education into the digital environment,” some sex education game developers think this could be their moment.

The science behind gamified sex education

Gamification can be summed up as the use of game design elements like avatars, scores, leaderboards and virtual rewards in non-game contexts such as apps for learning a skill or tracking one’s progress. With the growing use of computer-based therapy in mental health and promising results seen in the use of gamification in psychotherapy, the push to gamify sex education is part of a broader movement—deploying video games to target health issues ranging from depression to tobacco use.

So how does game design and principles help tackle a social stigma? Three major factors come into play here: interactivity, privacy and familiarity. Interactivity is a huge influence on a person’s learning capacity, especially in a digital age saturated with online lectures and note-taking. What this means in terms of sex education is that these games could essentially offer a way to interact with the subject at hand without getting ‘down and dirty’.

“Putting a condom on a banana, that’s like a stereotype of sex education, right? But that’s what everyone remembers,” said Nina Freeman, the developer behind the acclaimed sex education game how do you Do It? “It’s the thing that you’re actually doing. You’re basically performing the act of putting a condom on a penis—it is performative.” In an interview with Mashable, the developer equated the act of putting a condom on a banana to a game-like experience and how in that sense such games could be a very effective way of conveying information.

Freeman’s approach to game design involves role-plays and simulations which gives players a different perspective on the whole sex education front. “I think player/character embodiment is really powerful and games are uniquely better than other media at having people get into character, almost like they’re in a play,” she said. “Games are really good at that because they’re actively having the player pull information instead of pushing it on them.”

Another example of interactivity in gamified sex education is the smartphone app Tap That where players are responsible for taking care of different characters navigating their sexual relationships. If one of them has an STI, the players have to diagnose and determine how to cure or treat it. Virtual condoms are also offered in player toolkits to prevent the infections from spreading. “Sex should be a positive experience, so why shouldn’t sex ed be too?” a video explaining the game reads.

This brings us to the next two factors pushing these video games into the mainstream: privacy and familiarity. Such games have the potential to filter out all of the awkwardness surrounding the topic. It gives players the ability to learn about sex and sexuality from the privacy of their homes in a way that they’re familiar and comfortable with.

“Having students engage with the world in a way they’re more familiar with and feel more comfortable doing makes a difference when you’re trying to get them to talk about issues that are really sensitive or maybe their parents haven’t talked to them about,” Freeman mentioned. “I think giving them more of a private space to explore some of this stuff is definitely helpful.” The added privacy also fosters a safe space for players. One where they can reflect on their own sexuality and explore their feelings without being judged.

A comprehensive way forward

In a recent report by Censuswide, the agency surveyed 500 teachers who used video games in their classrooms over the pandemic. 89 per cent of them highlighted the fact that the tool has proved beneficial for engaging students with their subjects. 69 per cent stated that their students are more likely to do their homework when gaming is involved. And 68 per cent swore that gaming would become an important resource in education moving forward.

As comprehensive sex education becomes essential for today’s ‘digital native’ youthwith means of sexting, online dating and VR sex literally available at their fingertips—video games along with the transferrable skills they offer might just help safeguard education in the COVID-19 generation and beyond.