Digital course aims to make high-tech learning less intimidating in the classroom.

The average Kiwi teacher is a woman in her early fifties. She's facing a generation of kids she wasn't trained to teach who have grown up with Wi-Fi, the cloud and hand-held technology.

But a postgraduate digital course has more than 1000 teachers - many who completed their training before the internet was invented - pouring through the doors of Unitec's Mind Lab since it launched mid-last year.

It is now on track to become one of the largest postgraduate courses in the country - with 800 scholarships available and plans to open branches in Wellington and Gisborne this year.

Mind Lab was designed initially to teach technology to children, but founder Frances Valintine said she needed to change its focus after watching teachers arriving alongside their students and becoming entranced.


"The first indication was when, instead of having one teacher per class, we had 10 teachers turning up with the kids. We realised they needed the professional development."

The full impact of digital kids was expected to hit over the next couple of years, as a critical mass of children now under 10 floods the education system, she said.

Ministry of Education data from 2012 shows that the most common age bracket for teachers was 50-54, with 5469 teachers.

Ages 45-49 and 55-59 were the next-highest categories, with 4567 and 5003 teachers respectively. There are more than three times as many female teachers as there are male teachers.

"Teachers and experts are facing a generation of kids they weren't trained to teach," Ms Valintine said.

The 2014 report Digital Technologies in New Zealand Schools highlighted the issue, saying only 14 per cent of schools feel that all of their teachers have the necessary skills to effectively manage student use of personal digital devices for learning. This is despite increasing numbers of schools requiring students to bring devices to school.

Mind Lab's certificate course, which aims to give teachers the confidence to use technology at school, rather than make them experts, runs over 32 weeks. It features lab sessions - from 4pm to 8pm - and online collaboration.

Participants upload videos from their classrooms to share lesson examples with others in the course. It costs $2750 to complete but there are 800 scholarships worth $2000 available courtesy of the NEXT Foundation. Applications close on March 6.

Robots train educators to master technology

Lorraine Vickery says teaching has completely changed and it's important to be up with the play. Photo / Nick Reed
Lorraine Vickery says teaching has completely changed and it's important to be up with the play. Photo / Nick Reed

Last week, 55-year-old teacher Lorraine Vickery learned to make a tiny robot walk straight. There were no instructions. She battled through, and soon will likely use the lessons she learned with her students.

Mrs Vickery, the head of e-learning at Mt Roskill Grammar, trained as a teacher before computers were common in the classroom - as did the majority of teachers - and is now expected to deal with children who have never known anything but Wi-Fi.

"Teaching has completely changed," Mrs Vickery said.

"The whole system is changing. It's moving on from content knowledge - because the content is in your pocket.

"Now it's not the content you need to know but how to use it."

The special-needs educator, who began teaching in 1981, decided to take a certificate in digital literacy from the Mind Lab last year after taking on the e-learning role.

She felt that if she was going to be explaining policies such as Bring Your Own Device to others, she needed to be ahead of the play.

"For teachers who were brought up like I was it's important to explain why education is changing," she said.

"You've got to be on board. And you've got to be aware of what's happening everywhere, not just in New Zealand."

Mrs Vickery said learning the tools, including animation, robotics or coding, took half the class, then the second part was learning how to apply that to teaching.

"It's making me think more about teaching and learning, to analyse the thinking behind it," she said.

"It's not actually about the technology; the technology is just a tool. The technology is there to support learning outcomes you have for your students.

"The robots are just the fun stuff." — Kirsty Johnston.

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