Classrooms and Tech

Ask yourself the question, “Is the technology introduced to the classroom working?” Be honest. Be careful. Be real.

First, to answer this question we have to look at a number of issues before we can get to the end. What is your context? State or private school? Age of students? Actual literacy and numeracy skill levels of your students? History of technology use in your context? What support and encouragement do you get to use tech?

My circumstances have been State Schools only. For me, private schools are exemplars of a bygone era, harking back to a stratified society, divided on class, money, blood ancestry, social conditioning. We should be closing them, not supporting them. So, yes, my view is a little prejudicial, but who cares?  

My students have been Years 8 to 13, that is 12 to 19 years old. My views are forged in this maelstrom of hormonal change, social awakening, self-consciousness, physical, emotional awkwardness. Worse, it also includes a desire to take control of their own lives, to develop a self-reliance they have never experienced. This is where technology comes into the picture, more and more students are using technology to escape their mundane world.

Whether it be their mobile phone or their laptop, they are using it to avoid working in the classroom. Not all students are doing this but there are some in every class, enough for it to be developing into a serious issue. Victoria and Western Australia have both moved to ban phones from the classroom, but students have already swapped to their laptops or other devices, like a smartwatch. It seems that this particular horse has bolted.  I have to also ask what is the impact of technology on literacy and numeracy?

A lot of academics would say “Depends on how you measure them.” How do we measure them? We don’t actually, not any more, at least not in any meaningful way. Why should we? Students have their phones and their laptops to be their extended memory, their instant library, their spell checker, their database. They don’t need to be personally literate or numerate or culturally aware, their digital memory will do it for them. All they need is to know which buttons to press.

How do we use digital technology in the classroom? Very badly here, that’s for sure. Just before the Covid-19 virus hit Australia, I wrote this piece on how we’re getting it wrong with tech. I have since realised that what I wrote doesn’t tell the whole story. 

I do mention that Staff get jaded when there is constant turmoil around ICT, no consistency over decades, not just a couple of years. The other side of that is that Staff are also a little gun shy as they, all too often, have very little in the way of real digital literacy.  They use their devices, but only in the most shallow way.

Students too are the same, they use their technology to do lots of things, but its superficial use. They watch movies, download iTunes, some buy things, others just pirate them. When it comes to school work, if you ask for anything more than some word processing, it becomes a serious struggle for many of them. One student told me recently, “Why are we using Excel? This is Maths, we’ve never used our laptops for Maths before.” 

What? No tech in a Maths class? Unbelievable! 

Think about it. Covid-19 has shown a lot of teachers up as a lot of entrenched, immutable dyed in the wool traditionalists. Looking at photos from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the classroom hasn’t changed really. It is a lot less formal, certainly a lot rowdier, almost chaotic when compared to the highly regimented classroom of that time. Any teacher from that time would be able to recognise the room as a classroom, irrespective of the changes. That is the problem.

Few teachers can take new ideas and make them into something. All teachers can take the latest edurhetoric and ignore it, all while making sounds of approval. If an idea is sold well enough, teachers can use it in their classrooms; even if it is just rubbish. Look at “Learning Styles”. I admit to getting sucked into the idea, it seemed to make sense. The fact it has no evidence to support it, that there is definite psychology rebuttal of it, yet it became widespread and widely adopted. Why?

It was, I suggest, a way of avoiding the real issue. For over thirty years one education fad has been replaced by another. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. More often now, fads are taken out of storage, polished up, given new titles and reused, with the same deadly, dull boring outcome, failed again. For example, “Open Space” is making a comeback. Enterprise Learning has become Entrepreneurial Education, Cross-Curricula has become STEM. Ideas that are genuinely new, like Flipped Learning, using an LMS and the like, are either rejected out of hand or just ignored.   

In short, if it is anything that resembles “new” don’t use it. Resist it. Label anyone who tries “new” as “dangerous” or “out of step”. Don’t value innovation. 

So let’s come back to how Covid-19 has exposed current education practice for the nonsense it is. Schools were closed in a lot of areas, regions, states. Teachers worked frantically on developing online materials. Why? They should have already been in place! Educators have been using technology for over 20 years, so why were so many teachers scrambling to get the online work in place? 

I was involved in one Zoom meeting and a common theme was “how can we give kids Adobe programs to use when they don’t have an Internet connection?” What’s the matter with you people? They may not be able to access or use Adobe CC, but doesn’t the school still have some old CS4 or CS6 licenses that can be installed on devices the students can use at home? I actually put that in a general message, I am not sure it was even noticed. I use CC products on my school provided equipment, but I am still using the CS6 programs I purchased years ago. (I have never had a problem shifting between the two versions btw, but then I don’t use really advanced features available either.) They are adequate for my needs and I don’t need to become an Adobe drone to use them.

Imagination in technology use is just not valued in education. 


About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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