“I still prefer to see a teacher who teaches with dusty books and a chalkboard but knows how to inspire kids and shows them how interesting learning can be, rather than a high-tech teacher that uses ICT without a bigger plan.” – Belgium

“In my job as ICT Coordinator and as an employee of the biggest teacher web portal in Flanders, I’m in the perfect spot to bring change to education,” says Bram Faems. “I myself am very interested in everything where technology is concerned. And my jobs allow me to put these new technological innovations to the test for their educational use.”

In Faems advising role as ICT Coordinator, he works hand-in-hand with the teachers at his school. Together, they search for ways to best use technology in their classrooms.  Faems also works for an online teacher community where he advises teachers from all around the country, and networks with them to discover the latest trends in schools. In fact, networking is Faems passion. “By sharing teaching resources, great ideas are coming right out of the classroom, and are growing exponentially,” he says.

Today, Faems shares some of his most successful projects (helping students create their own movies using PowerPoint), why networking is of utmost importance to teachers, and why he believes the time is now for momentum in educational technology.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Using technology on a daily basis has become a matter of course at my school. My  colleagues and I no longer see it as something special; it has become a part of our daily routine. We try to banish paper as much as possible because we discovered we could do many things more efficiently digitally. Thinking digital really is ingrained in some colleagues. I’m glad to see we are at a point where I don’t get any strange looks when I’m talking about sharing files on the school server or collaborating online in the cloud.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

New technologies with a concrete educational added value are the ones that get picked up by colleagues the fastest. For example, there was quite a bit of resistance when I introduced a blog for each class. But when I collaborated with a teacher to search for a concrete use for blogging in her lesson plan, that resistance fell away. Now the pupils blog about “the word of the week”: every week one pupil blogs a definition of a new word and adds a picture from the Microsoft Office ClipArt library.

Those ideas that arise from a certain need of a teacher, where I can bring concrete added value with my technical background, succeed best. And if it is a success with one teacher, it spreads like wildfire throughout the whole team.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

The project I am most proud of is the Jonatan Academy. After seeing Salman Kahn’s Ted Talk about Khan Academy, I was inspired to create a variation on the flipped classroom in my school. In our project I’ve made the pupils create the educational movies themselves. They come up with their explanation and the corresponding schema. They digitize their schema in Microsoft PowerPoint and record their voices. Then this presentation is saved as a video within Microsoft PowerPoint and posted on YouTube. We embed those movies in a website that is easy to navigate for the pupils. It started out as a small experiment I did in one class, but it’s growing to a project all teachers are taking part in. The fact that we already won several awards with this project is fun, but that the results are so frequently used in classrooms and at home is the biggest reward.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

I am fortunate that I ended up in a school with a long-lasting vision for ICT. My school invests just as much in resources – such as hardware – as they invest in time for me, as an advisor and pacesetter in the field of innovation.

Schools in Belgium get limited government resources to invest in ICT. It is difficult for schools to have an ICT-coordinator for a sufficient number of hours in the school. For many schools, that much-needed support for teachers in technical matters simply is out of budget, and there is no long-term vision for the use of technology. The budget is mostly spent on hardware and maintenance. But without the right vision and planning, the investment in technology makes little sense.

What is your region doing right to support education?

In Flanders, we should be proud of the teacher portal I work for part-time called KlasCement.

Thanks to the work of volunteers and the support of the Ministry of Education, this educational portal has grown to a website where one-third of the teachers exchange teaching materials. On this free portal, teachers share their worksheets, interesting links and even find educational videos. As with so many web 2.0 initiatives, it’s a small group of teachers who create, while the large mass only downloads. But I look at the future with hope that more and more teachers will share their own work with others.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

At this moment there is a lot of talk about big changes at the base of our education system. The government wants to tackle, quite rightly, a number of problems in our current education system.
But I fear that the voice of “the teacher in the classroom” is not heard enough. And all too often their healthy criticism is mistaken for fear of innovation. With this approach, valuable input from people with knowledge of the “business” is lost.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

In the past, we didn’t have an easy job as ICT Coordinators. When we finally had the chance to propose something innovative, there were many stumbling blocks that killed the idea before it even saw the light of day. It was difficult to share files with pupils with unreliable networks, the computers were immobile and software was often plagued by errors. With the advent of better software and mobile computers like netbooks or tablets, many of those problems are getting resolved. The applications are flexible and convenient to use. With the Windows 8 tablets coming soon, we will even have the luxury to use a combination of the convenience of a tablet and the completeness and performance of the PC. I expect that the momentum in the field of ICT in education is finally here.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Network! I am a social media addict because I have had so many chances and learned so much because of my network. There are so many interesting people spread across the country, even the world. The people I follow on Twitter are the curators of interesting content. They are my filter for interesting articles and new ideas on the web. Combine that eagerness to learn with the experience of colleagues with decades of experience, and you’ve got a winning team.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Again, I believe that nothing is as important as a network, even for pupils. The big challenge for pupils is to learn that social networking is more than games on Facebook and videoclips on YouTube. You can start a Facebook group with the classroom where you can help each other with homework when you’re stuck. Or search on YouTube to look up explanations from experts on the topic you’re studying. You can even find experts and ask them questions on Twitter. It is not only about what we know or can do, it is equally important to have people in our network that help us to achieve our goal.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Maybe people would expect me to write “a smartphone“ or “mobile Internet” here. But that would be unwise because technology has only as much value as the way you use it. Just think of the teenagers with a flashy smartphone. They have a world of information and knowledge in their pockets. Yet they often get no further than the messages or Facebook app.

No, if I can choose one good education tool it is “a good teacher.” Because I truly believe that you can buy all the computers in the world, but if you put them in the hands of a teacher who doesn’t know how to use them in a meaningful way, your investment is lost.
I admit, I still prefer to see a teacher who teaches with dusty books and a chalkboard but knows to inspire kids and shows them how interesting learning can be, rather than a high tech teacher that uses ICT without a bigger plan. My hope is that every kid gets to meet some of those unforgettable great teachers that find a way to embrace technology and adapt their teaching practices to the digital age.

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About Bram Faems
Project coordinator at Wijze Mediaklassen voor Educentrum V.Z.W.,
ICT Coordinator  at Jonatan Academy

Birthplace: Sint-Niklaas, a mid-size city near Antwerp in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium
Current residence: Sint-Niklaas
Education: After my secondary education in graphic design, I followed my urge to teach and studied to become a teacher.
Website I check every day: Twitter!
Person who inspires me most: Every teacher that manages to combine everyday classroom management with trying out new ways to teach.
Favorite childhood memory: Going to the beautiful theme park Efteling, a theme park about fairytales in the Netherlands
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Barcelona, enjoying the Spanish sun in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
When was the last time you laughed? Why?  With my kids, trying to do a serious presentation, but too cute!
Favorite book: The New Normal by Peter Hinssen
Favorite music:
I’ve got a broad flavor in music, from smooth jazzy pop like Norah Jones to hard style dance music like The Prodigy
Your favorite quote or motto: Necessity is the mother of evolution.
For me it says: change will come when needed, but also, only change things when there’s a need for change.

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