Boxing has a strategy called “rope a dope”. Essentially, two fighters square off, both are skilled, perhaps very closely matched. One fighter likes to be aggressive, the other, knowing this, simply defends himself. All he does is defend, with the occasional, often cheeky, aggressive move, ensuring the other fighter keeps coming. While throwing a lot of punches, there are few scoring punches, but the aggression of the first boxer is draining his energy. In a 12 round fight, by round 8, the aggressor is starting to make mistakes, and is starting to lose ground to the other fighter. The smarter fighter then steps up, still relatively fresh and unscathed, throwing his punches, landing more and more until the other fighter is defeated. At the moment, I suspect that the “dope” in this missive is the South Australian Department of Education. The other party is the ICT industry and the SADE is not winning.
How do we use ICT in schools in South Australia? Very poorly, I suggest. Some schools will do it okay, others, the biggest majority I suspect, are so haphazard in their use of technology, that they have little actual understanding of it. There is an ICT curriculum, one that teaches programming using Python and robotics. Most schools run it, but the ICT I am talking about is the essential use of laptops and desktops by the school population, the programs and equipment used by schools for enhanced learning. I am talking about an LMS, learning management system and ePortfolios, not just student use, but teacher use. I am talking about the administration of, making delivery on the promise of ICT and the future direction of our use of ICT.
As a teacher, I don’t make decisions about ICT. I don’t develop policy, set goals, plan for the future. I have enough trouble coping with what I do do without the additional workload required such a job demands. I doubt I would be able to cope with making decisions about an LMS, the latest you-beaut one-trick wonder App on the Play or App store, the countless killer programs all designed to accomplish the same goal. Few schools, if any, have a person who does this at all, let alone develop real leadership with a vision on what can be accomplished with ICT. I suggest that without a vision, a plan, successfully supporting learning with ICT becomes well nigh impossible.
There are too many choices, too many different applications and tools and opportunities to be able to learn how to use them properly, if at all. Schools require the focus, the direction, a coherent vision can provide, but it has to be from someone who knows their job, who can develop plans, who has the right of veto. This person has to be able to fend off the slick sales reps promising the world but delivering little red wagons, someone who can refuse to accept using tools that do not fit into the vision they are developing, select only those tools they need to make their vision work as it should.
When there is no plan, no vision, every educational whim becomes the latest and greatest, the next big thing. Whatever the fad of the day is, teachers are required to master it, usually with little or no formal training, use it, implement it, but only until it is replaced with the next big thing that does something different or forces a different direction. Little wonder that teachers get jaded, become somewhat resistant to change when this is an endlessly repeating cycle. Why should teachers invest in something that lasts only as long as a service contract runs, or until the local booster moves on? It becomes even more difficult when the promised learning value fails to equal the money and effort spent on something that is not meeting expectations.
It has to be recognised that in any organisation, no matter how big or how small, not everyone will jump on board and use a tool, any tool, to the depth that can seriously enhance learning. Using one small set of tools gives us a number of advantages, but the main one is time. This time allows the high flyers and early adopters up and running, time to give those uncertain users to get acquainted with whatever tools are being used and at least get everyone familiar with the tools they are required to use. It doesn’t matter what tools are used, but if there is a consistent set of tools, users can become familiar with them and whenever they move within a school district or anywhere within the State, they know they are still using the same tools.
We have over 20,000 registered teachers in South Australia and there is no broader long term ICT plan in place for teaching and Learning. There is only vague murmurings that do not really speak of continuity or consistency. Staff do not seem to be valued and far too much energy is wasted in pursuing fads rather than genuine enhanced learning.
There is no administrator prepared to say ‘NO’ to flash in the pan ICT that ultimately does not enable enhanced learning. To consider this in nautical terms, if the ship has no rudder, it wallows, if there is no compass there is no direction, if the engines cannot work in unison, there is no power to impel forward movement. In short, the ship flounders, perhaps not like a beached whale, but sooner orlater it will hit something and sink. Unlike a ship, it will not be the captain who will take the fall, it will be the crew. Teachers will be blamed for everything.
The major point I think I am getting to is this is an ownership thing. We have to own our tools, own our investments, we have to invest in ourselves and we quite often don’t. We have to make that choice and invest in things that make sense tomorrow, not in what is easy today. We have to play a much longer game. Learning has to occur if the metrics used to measure that learning are to be meaningful. To continue the ship analogy, you can’t build a ship from the bridge down.
There are three ways to win a boxing match, by a knockout, a technical knockout or by landing the majority of scoring punches. It is hard to see that education is landing many punches at all when students graduate without knowing the alphabet, their times tables, the names and order of months in a year.
[Thanks to CK for inspiring this.]