English Language Learning Blog

Classroom as Computer Lab

  •  Classroom as Computer Lab

Our blog series on the Bridge program at Bow Valley College continues this week. Dan Merryfield, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement, reflects on the Bridge's laptop program.

One of the gaps that many learners come to us with is being unfamiliar with computers. This blog post talks about one of the ways the Bridge Program addresses digital skills.

Imagine teaching a beginner class how to read and write, but having all the paper and pens in another room. You, as the teacher, have a pen and piece of paper at the front of the class, and you use them to demonstrate how the letters are made, but it is difficult to get all of your learners to come up and write on it. Fortunately, twice a week, for 45 minutes, you are allowed to take your class into the room that holds the pens and paper. Here the learners can practice and develop their skills, but only for the time allowed. At the end of the 45 minute period, they have to put down the paper and return to their classroom. As you can imagine, such an approach would not be effective in teaching people how to write.  However, the situation we were in with regards to teaching digital literacy to our Bridge learners was similar to the imaginary class described above. We were limited by access to computer labs and as a result, learners were limited by access to computers. This affected how much time we could use to develop digital literacy skills. Fortunately for us, this situation no longer exists because of our laptop loan program.

Early in the term, learners are lent a laptop which they have to return at the end of term. They are expected to bring the computer, fully charged, to class with them each day, the same as they bring a pen or their binder. We, as instructors, stress to the learners that the laptop is another school supply that they have to bring to class. Having laptops in the classroom has had many positive effects on our learners and on our program. Before having the laptops, any digital literacy skills that we taught were tied to time and place. Our weekly schedules and our projects were based, in part, around access to a computer lab or a listening lab. 

Now, our classes are no longer planned around listening labs and computer labs. Our class is a computer lab. The internet is a fixture in our classroom the same way an alphabet lines the walls of a kindergarten. Learners can, and frequently do, use their computers throughout the day. One of our aims with the laptops is to integrate digital skills into our daily instruction. What we have found is that learners have developed more confidence and are now very comfortable using the computers. Many of our learners come into the Bridge program with very limited or no experience with computers. Although some of our learners have computers at home, most do not. By lending them a laptop for the term and using it throughout the school day, learners begin to use their laptops 

We do not teach code or programming, and our learners do not leave this program technology experts able to solve every problem.  However, they do leave being familiar and comfortable with using the computer for school work and most are capable of showing other people how to use the programs.

Check out the blog post Reflections on Learning with Laptops to find out what the learners have to say about the laptop program.

How do you support learners' digital literacy skill development?

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