Sunday, April 29, 2012

Technology in the classroom? Always a good thing?!

Getting out of the box:

"How to teach the so-called soft skills demanded of tomorrow's workforce - creativity, problem solving and the ability to work in teams - is a conundrum preoccupying educators. Once upon a time, schools prepared the workers of the future for the industrial age, according to leading British education expert Professor Stephen Heppell. Children sat in rows with the teacher at the front of the classroom. The teachers had all the answers; they were the sole purveyors of knowledge. Students absorbed what they were taught and regurgitated it in tests. After graduation, they worked in factories that mass-produced hubcaps or they joined the typing pool. Ingenuity was not particularly important. But while such schools may have worked in the 1950s, Heppell says the third millennium poses new challenges. The internet means children have access to more information than ever before. Teachers are no longer the font of all wisdom."

'via Blog this'

Just read this interesting article on a primary school in Australia which Microsoft have declared a 'mentor school' because of their use of technology.  On one level, it sounds fantastic.  All those kids engaged in their learning.  Brilliant.


... I don't know - there's something about it that makes me feel rather uncomfortable. Too much of a 'good' thing? The quote 'Education extinguishes the skills that you actually need in life' might be true, but why do they feel that exposure to technology which will be hugely dated by the time those children enter their independent adult life is the solution, I'm not sure. Imagine if there had been the insistance that all learning for children in the early / mid 1980s was mediated through BBC Micros (and I know there was some, but the cost of the kit prevented it from being ubiquitous in the curriculum) - those weren't the skills that would have been useful now. Encouraging the skills of curiosity, a love of learning, the ability to reflect and challenge - those are surely key skills which haven't changed?  There is so much time for children to get to grips with technology - and so many different avenues in which they can.  But, instead of thinking about face-to-face social skills and how to nurture those, their faces are instead turned towards a screen of some sort.  They're going global before they even know that *they* exist as an individual in the world.

As soon as someone points to the iPad / [insert name of other hot shiny technology] to enable learners to become 21st Century citizens, I think how we would have laughed in the 1990s if someone from 1912 was declaring that they had found the key to being a 20th Century learner.

It isn't the thing, it's the thinking we should be focusing on.


  1. The thing is the thinking. I mean - the new thing is partly defined as new in that it encourages new behaviours, new ways of thinking.

    The question is: does the thing encourage ways of thinking that were either unthinkable or impracticable before? If we're being reductionist, we might say that new technologies only stimulate existing thinking: social networks online only approximate, or shadow, our off-line, 'real life' relationships.

    I don't see it quite like that. It might be the case that there are timeless ideals that we value - curiosity, love of learning, ability to reflect and change. But those timeless ideals are nurtured and encouraged by a tangible present. They don't exist outside of human experience, but within it.

    The BBC Micro (too expensive for me, but I used one at school) illustrates the point. Certainly, the specific lessons it taught us - the use of BBC BASIC programming language, for example - is not, as you rightly say, relevant to us now. But some of the lessons it taught us - the necessity for backing up; the normative effect of making computing part of our everyday and so on, do accompany us now and continue to inform the way we work. Those who suggest the iPad, or another new shiny thing, replicate the process, for our children, now.

    As for your point about the dangers of facing a screen all day; well, to slightly skew your analogy of of early responses to new technologies in the early 20th century - it's also true that people reacted against the telegram, the television, the radio, even books I would imagine, as deleterious to the new generation.

    For example, perhaps a new way of thinking is that we recognise that we're part of a global social network; perhaps it dissolves a fixed sense of self-identity in a way that's positive and desirable; but that's which is at odds with our way of thinking now (at least, for some of us: such a broad idea is of course part of Eastern Philosophy and religion, especially Buddhism).

    Our childrens' future is not ours to control - and although we may lament the passing of some of our most cherished ideals (as they will, in their turn) - we cannot, and should not, seek to confuse the broader lessons that technology and the way it changes our practices and principles in a broader sense with the specific instances or examples of that technology that we might find transitory.

  2. Many students give up in difficult situations and tech assignments exactly at the dissertation point, when they realize that they won't be qualified to gather information and complete the paper work. So since claims are low, it doesn't mean individuals have much choice. I have finished my thesis and need to check the grammar and vocabulary so to grade my paper would be appropriate for the time being.
    After that, the part with the appendix is left. Mostly, I choose pdf files and presentations, but this time it will be only a 2-3 pages report with statistics and graphs.

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