The Forum Education and Digitization supports schools as they make the transition to digital technologies. But what can high-quality lessons with digital media look like? A secondary school near Munich is finding out. Students talk about under what circumstances digital lessons make sense in their opinion, where digital teaching aids are particularly useful, and why pen and paper are still indispensable at times.
The bell announces the start of the third hour. “Any questions, anything not clear?” English teacher Andrea Holler, 33, asks her class. A projector beams an exercise onto the wall. The 29 students in class 6c at the Oskar-Maria-Graf-Gymnasium, a secondary school in Neufahrn, collect iPads from a silver case brought in by Holler. Then they disperse in all directions. The students gather in groups at various classroom stations to learn about Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire.
The topic is from the printed textbooks for sixth grade “which, unfortunately, aren’t exactly up-to-date anymore,” Holler says. Luckily for them, there are iPads now; the school currently owns 90 of them.
How do the students feel about classes with digital media?
Tablets have long since proven themselves a valuable tool in foreign-language learning. The students can use them to organize information in “mind maps,” watch interactive videos, complete listening exercises, or film themselves role-playing. The advantages are obvious: Cooperative learning promotes interpersonal skills, and the use of media improves students’ listening and speaking skills. The most surprising thing is how quiet the class is while working.
The iPads are also frequently used in physics or German classes across all grades. How can schools provide high-quality instruction with digital media? And when are digital learning tools helpful? The students of the Oskar Maria Graf Grammar School offer some answers.
Florian Fischer, 15, 9th grade: "At a digital school, everyone can autonomously work on their weak points. I’m not that great at geometry, but I’m good at algebra. Before a test paper, I would mostly use the tablet for geometry studies.”
Lilly Sparr, 17, 11th grade: “Our textbooks are now also available digitally on the smartphone. This allows me to mark certain passages or make notes. That’s prohibited, of course, with regular books provided by the school. The overview that gives is very useful.”
Johannes Steinberger, 15, 10th grade: "The GeoGebra program helps me visualize mathematical relationships in geometry and understand complicated issues. The only problem is that the program does not work for some one of my classmates at home."
Manuel Huber, 16, 11th grade: "For papers, I search for websites that provide explanations or use Wikipedia, as there are summaries on almost every topic. “But if we don’t understand the material before the test, the Internet can’t help us either.”
Lillith Lermen, 13, 8th grade: "In class, I often take notes with pen and paper. But I do my homework digitally, via our learning platform. It allows us to send questions to our teachers. At this rate, pen and paper will become obsolete at some point.”
Martin Dietrich, 12, 8th grade: “I like the playful exercises with the tablet in German class. It’s not as boring as writing it down on paper, because this allows us to work out the material ourselves. We are our own teachers, but thankfully we are allowed to make mistakes."
Daniela Gelic, 13, 8th grade: "My dad says I need to know how a computer works because I need it later in many careers. My mom is against abolishing school books. I agree with her. Vocabulary is easiest to learn when I write it down on paper.”
Paul Jastrow, 14, 8th grade: “Some teachers simply fill out the blackboard. And then we’re supposed to have grasped the material. Our German teacher, on the other hand, provides exercises on the learning platform, which let’s me know immediately when I make a mistake. This makes it easier for me to memorize the material."
The Oskar-Maria-Graf Gymnasium was one of 38 schools in Germany that participated in the “Workshop for Digital Learning” co-sponsored by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For one year, workshop participants discussed the digital transition in the educational sphere. It was a cross-border exchange of ideas, because education in Germany is the responsibility of the individual states, not the federal government. That doesn’t make it any easier to come to a consensus on reasonable standards.
But over the past few years, the school modernized itself from the inside out with prudent investments in technology and good employee management, like a medium-sized company. And that’s exactly why it could serve as a model for schools that have not yet started the transition to the digital learning environment of the future.