This post is in response to an article in the Australian written by Natasha Bita and published March 26, 2016: 'Computers in class 'a scandalous waste': Sydney Grammar head'
Brought to my attention via Twitter by the organisers of Education Nation (a conference being held in Sydney in June), I responded with a tweet.....
Let me explain my thinking further. In the spirit of mediation and trying to understand divergent thinking within the Australian education system I must say that ultra-conservative leadership within Australian education continues to be alive and kicking - both at the independent and public levels. It is almost as though our students are being held to ransom while leaders ignore much of the digital technology revolution that has taken place in the past 10 years.
To the article.....
Money....Yes! Lots of money has been wasted on technology...individually and institutionally - that is the generation we live in (like it or not).
John Vallance (Head of Sydney Grammar) is quoted as saying, “I’ve seen so many schools with limited budgets spending a
disproportionate amount of their money on technology that doesn’t really
bring any measurable, or non-measurable, benefits,’’
If schools have spent money on technology that has been above what may be considered a reasonable budget then there is likely something wrong with the system - however it is the accountability part of this that aligns intention with outcomes. What are the measurement tools being used to account for this? Better performance on tests? Higher marks overall for university entrance? Is that our ultimate goal (as the article seems to indicate) for education? What about the intangible outcomes such as improved digital fluency for life's purposes, ability to connect online beyond the classroom to learn with others.... how do you measure and evaluate those?
Vallance, "“Schools have spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars on
interactive whiteboards, digital projectors, and now they’re all being
Yes....it is true, money has been spent (and don't get me started on interactive whiteboards....ok, in a fair and just world where schools have all the money they need then a modern classroom should have these boards....but on limited budgets I would always choose technology in the hands of the student) but then effective schools (and businesses!!) plan budgets for technology replacements and updates - that is what we have to do now - it is part of the overhead of learning and of running a business.
"But Dr Vallance regards laptops as a distraction in the classroom. “We
see teaching as fundamentally a social activity,’’ he said. “It’s about
interaction between people, about discussion, about conversation."
Oh my goodness......if I hear one more time from an education leader or teacher or even a student that technology is a distraction I will throw something.....Technology is only a distraction when the associated pedagogy has not evolved to embed digital learning. In 2003 I was eLearning coordinator at the International School Dhaka in Bangladesh. Students had personally owned laptops in Grades 9-12, a wireless network, and an optimistic approach to learning how to learn while digital as a teaching faculty. Yes there were a few who considered laptops a distraction - but they were the teachers who continued to stand at the front of the class and demand 'eyes to the front' attention with a lecture-style pedagogy; they were the ones who wanted ultimate control of thought and action, and did not trust that students could not only use but benefit from online learning modes. But that was over ten years ago....surely all schools across the world have moved on? Surely we all know and understand today how to manage mobile technologies in the classroom to advantage learning outcomes??Surely we all know how to design online learning experiences both locally and globally?? (sigh...)
Teacher professional learning.....
Vallance is quoted as saying, “If I had a choice between filling a classroom with laptops or hiring
another teacher, I’d take the other teacher every day of the week.’’
OK, this is not exactly a statement about professional learning...but let me say this, all teachers need to update their pedagogical approaches to include learning with digital and online technologies - there is no mid-point here. You are either stuck in the past (no technology in the class) with a pencil and paper approach, or you embrace and embed new modes that include designing online and interactive learning environments. The major problem I see in Australia right now (and I have worked with many schools and teachers across Australia in the past 4 years) is the very low level of digital fluency coupled with an even lower level of understanding of how to use online tools and blended learning to support K-12 levels (oh...and Higher ed as well...but let's keep focused here...). I continue to run workshops, and even in 2016, where teachers do not know how to access a Google doc and even ask me (I am not joking, this is a true story) what Web 2.0 is. So yes, hire more teachers instead of replacing laptops after 3 years...run them for 4 years and fix the budget that way - but the imperative action is teacher professional learning along with enlightened leadership attitudes and approaches to what learning really does look like in a modern classroom.....
In the words of Michael Fullan (Fullan, Langworthy and Barber, 2014),
capacity, an educator's repertoire of teaching strategies and
partnerships for learning, has and will continue to change as technology
becomes more pervasive to include content delivery and consumption as
well as collaboration and creation of new knowledge and a focus on the
process of learning"
Socialisation of learning......
“We see teaching as fundamentally a social activity,’’ he said. “It’s
about interaction between people, about discussion, about conversation.
“We find that having laptops or iPads in the classroom inhibit conversation — it’s distracting. Dr Vallance said computers in the classroom robbed children of the chance to debate and discuss ideas with the teacher.“One of the most powerful tools in education is conversation,’’ he said.
The sociability of online learning has been researched and written about for 20 years. Yes, teaching is a social activity....and so is learning! Absolutely it is about interaction between people, discussion, sharing ideas, debate, conversation etc. But why limit this to one set of 20 students and one teacher (!!???). The use of digital technologies 'flattens' the learning so that others can be brought into these conversations and students ideas and outputs and learning can be merged, integrated, collaborated with experts and peers. In addition, digital technology allows learning to be visible - curation and sharing of resources online, blogging, collaborating via a wiki or Google doc, online discussion forums...all of these actions are valuable 'social learning' activities that can be shared beyond the immediate classroom walls as needed...and the best vehicle to do this is to use mobile technologies. Gone are the days when learners should have to walk to the computer laboratory in order to access their blog or social bookmarks or interact online! I closed the last computer lab at my school in Beijing, China when I was IT Director in 2011....good riddance we said...now the technology is in the hands of the students and can be accessed when needed (and put down when not!).
In terms of socialisation - learning is about building relationships, networks and communities of practice - and we should be encouraging students to build their own personal learning networks at a young age, and teaching them how to work in a collaborative capacity online....surely it goes without saying this is the future for them? It is the current state of how many of us work already!
Finally - Choices!......
My final words....or this will become a 2000 word paper.....learning today is global, it demands intercultural understanding and across borders interaction and collaboration, it requires new peer-to-peer learning modes and active online teacher presence, it requires an agile and flexible curriculum, and it relies on educators who understand emerging pedagogies for online collaborative learning. Current research related to educators as agents of change, qualities of and conditions for implementing online global collaborative projects using ICT, and pedagogical beliefs shows that barriers to technology integration not only include hardware and software issues but teacher beliefs and attitudes.
What is the catalyst for changing educators’ practice to more constructivist or connectivist approaches? In my view one of the catalysts is having technology in the classroom - available and working at all times. Then it becomes a matter of CHOICE - yes, at times it is best to hand write or use paper and pen, at other times it is best to use technology. It should not be an either or....it has to be both. Put the choice in the hands of the student...do not inflict one mode or the other. I know I have made mistakes in the past as a leader of new technologies when insisting on everyone conforming to digital routines.....today it has to be about choice, and adopting a variety of approaches when learning.
I will be speaking at the Education Nation Conference in June and look forward to further conversations about the role of digital technology in learning in Australia. There is much more to be said about this.
I welcome your comments and input to this discussion.
Fullan, M., Langworthy, M., & Barber, M. (2014). A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. London: Pearson.