“Project-based learning places the student as the central focal point of the learning process and all aspects of the necessary 21st century skills and multi-disciplinary learning can be incorporated into projects.” – Keith Laban, Trinidad and Tobago
If there is one thing that the heroes here at Daily Edventures have taught us, it’s that talent and inspiration can come from unexpected places and circumstances. This is the case for Microsoft Expert Educator Keith Laban, whose first job not only led him to become a teacher, but laid the foundation for his distinctive teaching philosophy. “My first job was actually in a hospital as a medical laboratory assistant,” says Laban. “While I was at the hospital, a friend suggested to me the field of Information Technology. I decided to pursue that field and following that, the field of computing.”
Laban subsequently got a job at his current school, Trinity College East, as an ICT teacher. “I soon realized that the students were very receptive and enthusiastic about my unique teaching style and my consistent use of ICT in the classroom,” says Laban. “I have been an ICT teacher at the school for the past 12 years and have realized the satisfaction of molding young minds and steering my students into various innate professions.”
In addition to his work at Trinity College East, Laban is also a part-time lecturer at the College of Science Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT). In both schools, Laban uses project-based learning (and especially loves using Kinect), which he believes is the future of education. As with all Expert Educators, Laban shares his knowledge and expertise broadly through teacher training sessions that he hosts. “My sessions have ranged from the use of animation in the classroom, to using Kodu and Touch Develop for gaming in education, to using a multitude of other Microsoft tools in education,” says Laban. “These sessions have been responsible for changing the teaching and learning practices of many educators in Trinidad and Tobago. Many of these teachers are slowly moving away from the traditional classroom and education models and are now incorporating many more ICT tools and project work in the classroom.”
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Keith Laban.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
I think my favorite teacher is my past high school physics teacher Mr. Roberts. Although during most of his teaching sessions he used traditional “chalk and talk” methods, his classes were a lot of fun due to his wild humor and informal classroom atmosphere. He demonstrated to me that sometimes if we take education too seriously, we can seriously impair the learning process.
Describe your most innovative teaching and learning practices and how they are supported by technology?
My most innovative learning practice is project-based learning. Since I attended the first Microsoft Regional Forum in Santiago, Chile in 2011 and was exposed to those great learning projects from Latin America and attending the sessions, I became fully immersed in PBL. In fact one of the presentations at the forum was on project-based approaches. I have really seen how this practice can revolutionize the learning pedagogy and affect the required paradigm shift in education. Project-based learning places the student as the central focal point of the learning process and all aspects of the necessary 21st century skills and multi-disciplinary learning can be incorporated into projects.
We have used a range of ICT technologies to support our project-based work. Students have used simple programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint to present project findings, they have used online applications to create digital animations showcasing the various aspects of data security, they have used online CAD software to design buildings with different types of computer network topologies and most exciting of all, we have used the Microsoft Kinect in many projects. We have used the Kinect in a highly successful language learning game which incorporated subjects such as Spanish, graphic art, computer programming and composition, along with the 21st century skills of collaboration, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. This project was presented at the Microsoft Regional Forum in Lima, Peru in 2012. In 2013, we once again used the Kinect to complete an augmented reality project which is used to bring virtual field trips to the classroom. This was presented at the 2014 Global Forum.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Much of the work I do with students consists of computer programming. I have introduced the use of Microsoft Touch Develop and Kodu into my programming sessions to get the students familiar with various programming constructs. This has proven to be highly effective — in fact, I have had students come to me and admit that they had decided on a future career in software development mainly due to their exposure to these tools.
In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
I think that the advent of cellphones and other mobile devices can potentially revolutionize the entire education system worldwide. The average smart phone has more power than all the mainframes that were used for the first space launch back in 1969 and more powerful than supercomputers of the early days. This enormous power, coupled with reasonable prices, has allowed these devices to be in the hands of a very large percentage of our students.
In my view, these devices can easily substitute for the standard computers at home and in the classroom allowing for the infusion of ICT tools for learning. I have not personally explored fully the tremendous potential of smart phones for learning but have realized that the biggest challenge to educators will be to source apps that are relevant and useful in their subject area and at the same time streamlining the use of the devices so as to minimize distractions and encourage learning.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
I think that the most exciting innovation in education is the application of project-based learning. Many major schools throughout the world has seen the need to move away from the archaic 18th century, Industrial Age model of education and towards project-based approaches that are better suited towards the incorporation of the 21st century skills, so necessary for our students to progress in this the Information age.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
The 21st century skill that evokes my greatest passion is that of creativity and innovation. I think that through these skills, the highest order of learning can be achieved. That of the application of learning into new contexts. This is far beyond the mere reproduction of rote learning that is the requirement of traditional learning models. In this the Information age, creativity and innovation by digital natives is required to continue the exponential advancements in technologies, necessary for life in the 21st century.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I think it would be a mobile tablet. There are several reasons for my choice (1) due to its small form factor it can be easily carried to and from school adding a negligible weight to their school bags. (2) E-books can easily be put on the tablets, which can potentially eliminate the need for physical text books these are cheaper and more eco-friendly to produce and replicate than traditional books. (3) Many tablets can be used with a stylus and thus allowing students to take notes and upload to a cloud storage such as OneDrive. (4) Teachers can distribute their learning material directly to the cloud and be downloaded to the students’ tablets for use in and out the classroom. (5) Testing can also be done on the tablets, thus eliminating the need for paper based tests, answers can be uploaded online to be automatically marked as in the case of multiple choice tests or manually marked, in the case of written tests.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
In Trinidad and Tobago, the government has allocated a tremendous portion of the national budget towards the field of education. A significant portion of this education budget is being used towards ICT in education. The Ministry of Education has a program for the past four years called E-Connect and Learn (ECAL). This program involves the distribution of laptops to all secondary schools’ form 1 students. Each year, approximately 17,500 laptops are distributed to the students. The laptops are loaded with Microsoft Office and several other software applications to be used in the classroom and at home. There has also been a recent “Smart Classroom” pilot project that has been launched in collaboration with Samsung. Internet access has been made available to many schools throughout the island through joint agreements between the Ministry of Education and several telecommunications providers.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
Our education system, as with many other countries worldwide, is stuck in the 18th century Industrial Age model. The old-school, teacher-centered approach is still unfortunately the major approach to education. Even with the distribution of the laptops and Internet access at the schools, many teachers ask their students to keep their laptops at home, obviously unable to fit the technology into an obsolete education model. In order for the students to thrive in the 21st century, the education system should be re-vamped and the 21st century skills should be a requirement infused into the primary and secondary schools’ curricula. There should be adequate teacher training by the Ministry of Education and outside organizations. This training should focus on the use of project-based approaches, along with the use of ICTs within the schools, both of which can infuse the required 21st century skills into the learning process. There should also be rewards given to teachers who excel at or who are willing to introduce innovative learning practices in the classroom.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
For me, in the past, the biggest obstacles have been the non-ubiquitous availability of technology by students in the school, the lack of a proper working computer network with adequate permissions, unavailability of the required computer software and slow Internet connections. But now, as I mentioned earlier, all my students have their own personal laptops, which significantly enhanced the use of ICT in learning. The computer network at school has been significantly enhanced with adequate permissions given to users, which allowed appropriate software to be installed and the use of the required online applications.
How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Teachers and school leaders should really lobby for a good computer network and strong Internet connection at their schools. Wifi should be available throughout the school especially on the classroom blocks. At first teachers may have a very negative outlook on the use of the technologies and allowing Internet access to the students. But with a properly orchestrated system, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages of widespread use of ICTs.
Another thing is that the people in charge of the schools’ computer infrastructure must understand that the technologies are placed there to be used mainly by teachers and students. They should not treat it as if they are protecting a high security computer network or Fort Knox. Teachers should be given the freedom to have installed software applications that they deem useful for learning. The students should also have a certain degree of freedom to browse most appropriate websites online.
How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?
I have used the Microsoft Office Web apps in the classroom for my Form 5 students to do their School Based Assessment (SBA). The SBA accounts for 30 percent of the final grade in my subject area, Information Technology. Normally students in their final year of high school have to complete the SBA. Through the use of the Office Web apps I have significantly reduced the amount of paper used by the class. This has saved a lot of money and helped us to “go green” and in the long term we can envisage that lots of trees will be saved by this endeavor. The collaboration feature offered by the Office Web apps has allowed my students to share the assignments with me in real time, so that I can make comments and they can make corrections. This has significantly increased the submission rates of the SBAs and significantly improved quality of the SBA submissions.
Describe how you use your favorite Microsoft technology in the classroom and how that impacts 21st century skills development?
My favorite Microsoft technology of all time has to be the Microsoft Kinect. We have the Kinect for Windows in my classroom to have fun quizzes where the entire class can have a competition among groups. This has really infused a fun aspect into the lessons especially since I teach boys and they can relate to the kinesthetic approach of using the Kinect. We have used the Kinect more importantly as the major driving technology behind many of our classroom projects. One of our most recent project was a Kinect language learning game where the users learn major phrases in conversational Spanish.
Another recent project was called GeoReality, an augmented reality application that allows users to have a virtual field trip inside the classroom. These Kinect projects were all multi-disciplinary and they incorporated most of the 21st century skills. Skills such as problem solving, creativity and critical thinking were required to develop each of these projects, in addition, collaboration within the various groups was an utmost requirement. Collaboration with the wider school population also occurred online in order for the project members to gain valuable information required for the project.
Describe to us your role as a leader for technology in your school, community or among other educators?
In Trinidad and Tobago, I consider myself to be one of the leaders with respect to the use of technology in education and 21st century learning. I have been asked by the Ministry of Education to perform teacher training in various areas with respect to technology in education. The Ministry also requested that I perform the keynote presentation at the recently held Virtual Education Conference put on by the OAS. I have held several professional development seminars at various secondary schools throughout the country, the major theme being 21st century learning and the use of ICT in education. At my school also, I have done several training sessions with fellow educators and have consulted with teachers one-on-one on the use of ICT tools within specific subject areas.
How is the experience being a Microsoft Expert Educator?
Microsoft has definitely hit the mark with this year’s Innovative Educator Expert program. I have been fortunate to be part of the Microsoft Regional and Global Forum since 2011 and this year the entire program was revamped and infused with invaluable career building information. I am really excited to be part of this program, especially the live training webinars held every few weeks. The information from these webinars is cutting edge and hot off the press from Microsoft.
I am also part of the Microsoft Trainer Provider program, which allows the Innovative Educator Experts to gain access to a wealth of teacher training material and use it all royalty free. Best of all, we are allowed to modify the material and also represent Microsoft as an official teacher trainer. For me this is great. What more can you ask for with respect to quality training and the ability to share with fellow educators?
About Keith Laban
ICT Educator at Trinity College East and Microsoft Expert Educator
Trinidad and Tobago
- Birthplace: Trinidad and Tobago
- Current residence: Trinidad and Tobago
- Website I check every day: Mostly check my email websites such as Hotmail and Yahoo on a daily basis. I’m also particularly fond of the Microsoft pil-network.com.
- Person who inspires me most: The Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson is especially inspiring to me. I really enjoy his revolutionary ideas to education and his extremely articulate and comedic methods of presentation.
- Favorite childhood memory: Barbeques at the beach with friends and family.
- Favorite book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: The Xbox 360 Kinect. I have used the Kinect for Windows extensively in my classroom and in learning projects.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Some very good advice came from a friend in Mexico who mentioned that his father always said, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
- Your favorite quote or motto: “The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things.” – Jean Piaget