CESI: Why people (not you) dread Change, Innovation and Creativity
People seem happy with this morning's keynote although, as usual, I'm left with the bitter taste of never ever being able to meet the expectations of Government officials, curriculum managers, ICT researchers, independent bodies, teachers and Conor's eleven year-old son. At least with a blog post I can try to cover some of the things I didn't have time to say or which, in the excitement, I forgot. This is just the first part. I'll try to chunk posts and link back and forth.
The main message (for those who can't be bothered reading to the bottom)? Teachers are the decision-makers in education and only they can advise on what is required in their schools. Others will have valuable input from the community, from expert research and technical groups or from Government offices, but, in the end, the teacher is more powerful than he or she probably believes.
The Computer Education Society of Ireland seems to have three main challenges which it can overcome with relative ease, if the will is there, if I have indeed identified real challenges which actually exist and if my proposed solutions fit the cultural contexts. I can but try:
- Lack of infrastructure: from the pre-keynote talks Jerome Morrisey, Director of the NCTE, pointed out that connectivity is not what it could be. Scotland spent centrally about 60m euros on infrastructure plus probably the same locally. With 200m euros budget to be spent in the next five years, Ireland's got an amazing opportunity to get on some of the fastest web in the world.
- Lack of hardware: There appears to be a lack of regular, planned spend on devices which can connect to the internet. Once you've got the web, though, you can start to look more laterally for solutions which lie under your nose: buy more computers for schools, use kids' Nintendo DS and PS2s (they have wifi)
- Frustration: I felt it, some admitted to it. Frustration is normally borne of feeling out of control in a particular situation. Is there something simple CESI could do to amplify its members' voices? Is there something the members can do to amplify the voices of their peers? Is there a way to get to the people who need to listen? The answer is 'yes', and I hope to look into that later.
What do people make of innovation or change?
The fact that people are often resistant to change is easy to say, difficult to know why.
In the Pepsi challenge people were given a sip of Pepsi and another cola. They always preferred Pepsi - it was sweet, it was more-ish, people like sweet things. But when faced with a can of Pepsi or a can of CocaCola hard sales show that most people prefer CocaCola. It is less sweet so, surely, fewer people would like it. However, too much sweetness made people feel icky, they don't want to drink any more.
The same principle of thin-slicing can be used in education to describe two things. The first is how people use technology. One of the reasons Interactive Whiteboards are not really delivering significant educational returns is because people don't see how to exploit them in the long-term for what they're good at: collaborative, student-led activity. After the initial sugar buzz (a sip of Pepsi) they are left feeling icky, not wanting any more. What we end up with is teacher-centred uncollaborative work. Had they taken the less attractive, slightly bitter taste of changing the way they had taught all along (teacher-centred, from the front, look at my PowerPoint) to something more collaborative (the kids, not them, touch the board each lesson) then the rest of the drink would be more palatable in the longer term (CocaCola).
2. Fear = loathing?
Teachers do fear new technology - the 15 year-old bass player says so:
He then asked me, "What's a Blog??"... My only thought after that was if only he knew. If only he had discovered. Not just what a Blog is, but what a Wiki is, what an RSS or and Atom feed is. How it could benefit him. If only he had been taught... There are those people who don't know about Web 2.0, what it is or what it could do for them, but there are also so many people out there that fear the whole Web 2.0 or school 2.0 idea, there are even those who still fear the whole concept of the internet. But why? Well, like I said in my last post, people fear it because they don't know the facts, the benefits or the potential. This is human nature, people fear the unfamiliar. So why aren't people made aware?
3. We assume all sorts of things:
What can be changed? What can I change? What can we do with those teenagers ("If I let them use their mobile phone to video their science experiment then they'll start happy-slapping each other. Yes, dear colleague, it really is the phone's fault..."). The problem with assumptions is that they are nearly always wrong, an arrogant solution to an often non-existent problem. In the mobile phone example, we teach students what is not allowed and what is allowed. If they break the rules we deal with them. Truancy. Bad. Not doing homework. Bad. Chewing gum under desk. Bad. Hitting others. Bad. Filming it. Bad. Filming science experiment. Excellent. It's not that hard, is it?
4. We plan too much in advance:
Prince II is a management structure that must be useful to someone, somewhere. To someone working with 180 different faces a week, using technology that sometimes works, sometimes does not, and trying to innovate, it is really pointless to write, and stick to, an annual development plan. I work in three month maximums. If I were to do a PhD on blogging would it be of use by the time it was finished? Probably not. Liberate yourself by letting the students take the lead. Get a toolbox of skills and, more importantly, ideas, that allow you to respond quickly and guide your learners towards something worthwhile. It might not be the same worthwhile something you had planned six months previously, but it's probably better.