Friday, April 01, 2016

Ban Technology? No, let's ban outdated learning and teaching instead!

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 jettisoned.’’ 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.

Classroom management...... 
"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 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),
"Pedagogical 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 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 has to be both. Put the choice in the hands of the 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 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.

Julie Lindsay

Fullan, M., Langworthy, M., & Barber, M. (2014). A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. London: Pearson.


Mark O'Meara said...

This is an interesting point, but there are a couple of points where I suspect that you might be overstating things.

In your paragraph about professional development, you assert that there is no mid-point in terms of using technology while learning. My experience is that most people are, in fact, on a variety of mid-points, and most teachers do not seem to be grasping the opportunity to use real world information and examples.

You also seemingly lament that some teachers don't know the term Web 2.0. A good number of teachers now are in their twenties now, and were only teenagers themselves when that term and its marketing hype had its heyday. It is a rare teenage who tunes into corporate marketing. Knowing the term myself only reminds me of my middle age.

Aside from the small points where I disagree, thank you for your passionate response to that decidedly odd statement about computers only being a distraction.

Julie Lindsay said...

Hi Mark

Thank you for responding directly to my blog, it is a great opportunity for us to dialogue beyond the 140 character limit of Twitter. I appreciate your viewpoint and let me respond further.

In terms of 'no mid-point' I was thinking that once teachers have started the journey they are in fact already on the continuum and considered 'in' the flow. Totally agree there are many sign posts, turns and obstructions along the way - not least of which is access to technology and networks. The fact that Sydney Grammar is blocking access to technology places teachers of those students in a position where access is limited to lab bookings - a reactionary situation that does not encourage adoption of new pedagogies for learning.

Regarding Web 2.0 - this one I find more problematic. I am wondering what you now call Web 2.0 if that term is distasteful to you? Yes, it is more than 10 years since we started to use this and I understand it is a common term that continues to be used across countries and systems to support understanding of the practice of not only reading from the web but writing to the web. If those in their 20's are not familiar with this term then this is in fact a comment on the fact their school and post-school education (their teachers and courses) did not refer and use this as part of the learning process - which is more likely the case than anything to do with marketing hype. My reference to this in the context of a workshop I ran recently was in fact an older teacher, not a younger one.

Thanks again for your support and opportunity to continue this conversation.


LisaS said...

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to read your responses - I was deeply concerned by Natasha Bita. Argument after argument rushed into my head at almost every paragraph until the end when the blindingly obvious needed to be stated: it's not about the tool but HOW the tool is used. It can be effective or wasted. The choice (and power) is in the hands of the user.

Julie Lindsay said...

Perfect Lisa! So therefore it could be concluded then that Sydney Grammar is not supporting teachers in HOW they use the technology, but instead prefer to ban in-class devices as no necessary.

Thanks for sharing

Jason Ozolins said...

There is some very emotive language about "ultimate control of thought and action" in your post which makes me curious. I'd be very interested to know how the Finns managed to achieve a very good ranking for educational outcomes without a lot of emphasis on computers in the classroom - was it by teachers maintaining ultimate control of thought and action, or by focussing on the stuff that actually matters and leaving the glitz to the world outside the classroom?

I'd like to stress a point which is little mentioned. It is my experience that the underpowered computers inflicted on teachers are a huge drain on their time. Every time I talk to a teacher about the computers they _need_ to do their job, or hear from my children how the computers run in the labs they use, my impression has been that they spend far too much time waiting for simple tasks such as logging in and opening documents or working with email and browsers. I fix computer performance problems for a living, and I am appalled that for the want of a few more dollars spent on RAM for an essential tool, teachers are spending their time they want to be working instead watching the little hard drive light flicker constantly as their machine thrashes its guts out swapping memory to disk and back. So much for Web 2.0... the IT infrastructure fails on Taylorism 101.

Jason Ozolins said...

My career in IT started in 1989 at age 19 when I took a break from Uni and landed a job working with VAX computers. Strangely enough I hadn't had any VAX training at secondary school, and yet I was able to learn what I needed to do the job well. Likewise, the computers I now work with are far removed from those VAXes, and the fundamental thing that has given me the ability to keep my skills up to date across nearly three decades was not "global, intercultural peer-to-peer learning modes", but the abilities to think abstractly, build consistent conceptual models of new systems based on my existing knowledge, read with full attention, and communicate with detail and clarity. I do use Google and discussion forums constantly in my job, because the new problems I encounter often go beyond any experience or training I've had. But what I consistently find in my searches and reading is that critical thinking and rigorous thought are crucial in sifting out valuable information from the imprecise, the outdated, or the flat out incorrect. All of which can be found out there on the Web... even on sites like Wikipedia that strive to harness the power of crowds in much the sort of collaborative, social, peer-to-peer fashion being extolled as the future of education.

My workmate is ten years younger than me, is very accomplished in IT, and as parents we've been discussing the relevance of IT in schools to our children's educations. Neither of us had Web 2.0 anywhere near our formal schooling, and yet, somehow, we've both made successful careers out of having flexible brains that can analyse the new and draw out the connections with our existing knowledge. Our consensus is that we're more worried about superficial glitz supplanting competence in fundamental skills of literacy, numeracy, and analytical thought than about our kids missing out in class on what they have access to at home anyway. And if some kids do lack that outside school opportunity to use the Web, we see that as being a worthy cause for government assistance or philanthropy, rather than a reason to rearrange the education system.

We're wondering why the pizza guy needs to get out a calculator to make change for a $15.90 order when I give him a fifty. We're (very!) worried about the dramatic fall in numeracy among young people trying to enter electrical apprenticeships.
We're grimly amused by the malapropisms and grammatical atrocities that are creeping into mainstream journalism, despite the elevation of that profession to a subject for tertiary education instead of on-the-job training.

It really falls to technology proselytizers to explain why kids are failing now to do what they used to learn how to do at boring old School 1.0. Because if we can't give them fundamental skills, we will waste the potential of our children, and our country will be far poorer for it. Plain Coroneos textbooks with their typewritten lettering and hand-drawn graphs got me and my classmates into honours level mathematics at Uni with just pencils, paper, a calculator, and some great teachers who knew their stuff, taught it to us well, and inspired us to push ourselves beyond our confort zones. Maths can be hard to get your head around, but I don't think I would have learned it any more readily if I had the ability to chat with someone on the other side of the planet about the formal definition of a limit or a derivative.

A balance needed said...

I love my technology ( when it works) and I am a product of what many these days would term the 'technological dark ages' or one that many try to mislabel as an 'old teacher afraid of technology'. In my experience of over 25 years teaching in both State, Catholic and Independent sectors there are very few dedicated teachers who in reality are 'afraid of technology'. Many may be annoyed by the inconsistencies of the delivery of: software, download capability, or lack of hardware their particular institution faces each day. Over the years I have had the opportunity to teach English, History, Visual Art and have completed a Masters in Education (Teacher Librarianship & mainly online) so I love the exciting visual opportunities IT offers. Yet…I am constantly dismayed by the fallacy of the notion of 'digital natives'. I had two girls, this last term, in a Year 12 English class ask me how I managed to change bullet points on a Power Point slide into numbered points. In the Library I assisted a Year 8 girl who though something had fallen out of her lap top because she could not find S Drive (student drive on the school network). My son in Year 7 drives me insane with his inability to locate his timetable on the school website yet can find stupid unicorn videos on Youtube. A class mate of his was discovered by his shattered and shocked parents to be secretly watching porn. Parents marvel at their three year old playing games on the iPad and think they are potential NASA scientists not realising the device is supposed to be intuitive and able to be played by a simpleton.

Our children see devices as entertainment conduits and the only communication they use them for is social media based - spend time trawling a discussion about a Kardashian or any other manufactured celebrity and despair at the superficiality and lack of global awareness. Sure I have merely quoted anecdotal evidence but I have read studies about the changing nature of eye movement and comprehension ability in the difference when reading on paper or screen. I have read studies that show international differences in literacy and numeracy results that do not support technology as assisting results. I also know that there will be studies that can show the opposite as statistics can always be manipulated to serve a purpose. I use a lap top and iPad everyday at work, yet did not touch one in my entire school life so we do not need to make the false argument that we are preparing them for their digital futures by saturating them with technology now. We need to expect academic rigour and the ability to read and comprehend a lengthy document rather than only the ability to flick and skim. We need flexible students who acknowledge that the internet is not the world in their hands but a construct - it is not reality, it is not always reliable. We need our students to be able to deliver an oral, model an interview, maintain a conversation and lift their eyes from a small glowing screen. We can worship respectfully at the altar of technology but must not become fanatical as fanaticism always leads to ignorance.