Giving a chance to our 'digital natives'

For Jason Ohler, the future is fast approaching and he's eager to make sure our children are equipped with the tools they need for the cyber age.

Ohler, professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska, is in New Zealand as keynote speaker at the Telecommunication Users Association's education conference and has firm views on the use of technology in the classroom.

He's heard the arguments that schools are wasting their money buying computers for classrooms and he's not moved.

"Yeah, that's great if you want to prepare your children for the 1950s but that's not the world they're growing up into and it's not the world they will inherit."

Ohler says the real need for computers in schools is not as a separate lab, although teaching computing as a course is important: instead, schools should use computers as an aid regardless of the class lesson.

"We should be aiming for a one-to-one ratio of computers to students. That way it's a tool rather than the be all and end all of the lesson."

Ohler is well aware that teachers are feeling the pressure and says teachers are going to be more important than ever before.

"But not so much for what they know as being able to explain to the students how to get information and for their ability to share the knowledge and experience they have."

One area Ohler says teachers should be addressing is the students' need for psychological survival skills.

"I don't know schools are ready yet to try to convince parents that this is something their kids need, but it's definitely something we should be considering."

Ohler says the amount of data available is increasing dramatically and kids need to be taught how to assess whether it's valid or not.

"They need a media literacy course. They need to know how to handle this flood of information and to pick out the real information."

Children, says Ohler, learn a lot from storytelling, something which is often forgotten as soon as they reach school. He sees digital storytelling as a vitally important tool for the future.

"Children tend to get a lot of information from stories before they come to school. Then when they get there they're given these other books, different books, that they find quite difficult. If we reintroduce storytelling as a method of transferring information then we might be onto a winner."

Ohler says this is fundamentally important as children are "digital natives" while we are "digital immigrants".

"They're growing up with this kind of access as a given. They don't even realise what they've got."

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