January 03, 2008

It's the gadgets, stoopid*

Gadgets The biggest teaching union in the UK, and the smallest in Scotland (does that tell you something?), has no doubt lobbied the English Children's Minister Kevin Brennan into telling parents to keep Christmas gadgets at home, rather than bringing mobiles, MP3 players and other technology into the classroom:

General secretary of teaching union the NASUWT Chris Keates said: "Every year some youngsters arrive back at school with MP3 players, mobile phones and electronic games.

"This can be a real headache for teachers when they are trying to get everyone settled down to start learning. Teachers would be grateful if pupils just brought a pen."

Mr Brennan said many Christmas presents got broken in the first weeks of the new term or had to be confiscated by teachers because they were misused in class.

"It is rightly down to schools to decide how best to deal with electronic equipment being brought in for use in the playground, but we are absolutely clear that when it comes to lessons, noisy toys are not acceptable," he added.

The NASUWT continue not to get it, continue to pontificate in blissful ignorance, and putting education second to letting their teachers drag on in the way their Victorian ancestor colleagues did. Worse still, they're using the serious but minority issue of technology abuse and the noble "Stop Cyberbullying" mantra to do it. But it's not cyberbullying between students, but of teachers. Their thoughts are clearly in the right place. Further still, they offer no way to have a dialogue, only an option to support their motions. Ignorant and undemocratic - what a dangerous combination.

The only way to stop cyberbullying, if they and the Children's Minister would like to make an attempt at pedagogy, is to show students how to use the tools they got for Christmas, in the classroom. Parents aren't necessarily trained in how to do this but, worringly, neither are many teachers.

Instead, get the students to show the functionalities of their tools and how they can be abused. Importantly, get them to show how they can be used to make learning faster, more fun or more accessible. The teachers, the Unions and the Ministers may have a few things to learn themselves.

This post, as you might have guessed, may not reflect the views of my employers. However, if the NASUWT would like some help understanding these issues, understanding why they are simply wrong, then give me a call or drop me a line. The email link is on the top right of the blog.

* The title to this post, not an insult but a reference to the Clinton 1992 campaign.

Thanks to Doug for the tip-off

Comments

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There are two issues here over allowing "gadgets" in classrooms:
1) The pedagogical implicatations - for some teachers they are disruptive, for some they are fantastic learning tools.
2) The practical implications - who is responsible for them? Are they insured? What happens when/if they get stolen or broken?

There are good arguments on both sides, but a lot depends on the learning culture and the "property" culture in the school.

All of our seniors (S4-S6) have been given mp4 players as part of a pilot programme. Lots of staff had to be convinced as to how the could be used in their subject. We've also had to show pupils how they could use them in subjects other than languages (I'm delighted to say most of them had worked that out for themselves!).It is interesting thought to see how some have embraced them and others think they're just for playing music (some of the Higher Gaelic class looked bemused when I said I expected to Gaelic work on them - obviously missed the mp3 revolution that swept the others in the department). Will be interesting to see what they make of them when the pilot is reviewed - although some have made use of mp3 players/phones etc we've never had 3 year groups all with the opportunity to use.

Ewan, it's hard to blame teachers for wanting to keep the gadgets out. Gadgets have buttons. ..And one whose thumb is on the button is the one who's in control. It wouldn't be the teachers classroom any more, would it? Should it?

Sorry, just got up and I'm rambling. The longer we try to ignore these new information and communication technologies -- that we see the windows and not what the kids are seeing through the windows -- the longer the new gadgets will be the domain of the kids, and the longer kids will do with them, only that which kids will do.

I'm sure there will be many students starting the term with the likes of an iPhone or an iPod touch. The unfortunate thing though is that they wont be able to use them to the full potential (and in most cases not at all). The inbuilt web browser, making it even easier to access the internet sitting at a classroom desk. The YouTube application allowing videos to be watched easily at any point in the day. The camera, allowing time spent copying stuff down from a board negligible, I mean why copy when you can take a quick snap? there have been a couple of occasions last term when I did this with my phone (when the teacher was out of the room).

I just find it so disappointing that students like myself are being discouraged to use such great gadgets as these that have so so many useful tools inbuilt. Of course, you'd be lucky getting on to a school wireless network with these devices anyway...

Ewan,

I'm right with you. We need to begin to see the potential for using these tools instead of banning them as toys and gadgets. The time of them being toys is past. They are powerful learning tools that have a place in schools and classrooms because they allow both teachers and students to step beyond the usual information dispensing model and begin to explore learning and creating.

We do need to provide teachers with the skills to use these tools and explore their possibilities. We are doing a grave injustice to the students and the teachers when we continue to label them as gadgets and toys. Until this model of technology is removed, new technologies will not be used as the powerful tools that they are and, instead, be treated as merely toys by students - toys that irritate adults. Hmmm - sounds like a recipe for problems. A blackberry is seen as a powerful tool by business people but not for a student. The iphone and itouch is given the same fate. It's neither the students nor the teacher's fault. It is a symptom of a larger problem found in the current system of education that we have and which needs to be changed. Good on you!

Scary stuff- bring on the toys. I love the toys.

Have just decided to get an OLPC XO laptop with my own money as I know I can't ask the school to pay. Will give it to kids to take home to play with, like the class MP3 so they can share the things they are doing in class with parents/friends who don't have good web access.

Allanah, you have briefly touched on a central issue at the end of your post - those without access to such technology. I admire your generosity and your realism. In the theoretical world this issue can be blown away like a feather by those hell-bent on being at the cutting edge. In the real world (which all teachers inhabit) it is not a feather - it is a huge weight - VAST numbers of kids already feel deprived in their private lives. My heart really goes out to them at the thought that some would have their noses rubbed in their "deprivation" on an hourly basis.

Of course all of these applications offer fantastic opportunities but it is the job of education authorities and teachers to provide opportunities to ALL not just the priviledged even if they are already a majority.

Even assuming that at the start of 2008 all teachers had been given the hardware, software and crucially the TRAINING to teach the way suggested by so many educational bloggers we would be back to practically point zero by the start of 2010 as technology's exponential development leaves the above hard and software almost obsolete.

Now let's go back to the above assumtion. I start off with an estimate of zero as to any authority being willing or able to achieve this even ONCE. I am nothing if not realistic.

By all means dream. It's often what keeps us going but never forget - targets are meant to be S.M.A.R.T.

Answers on a post-card - oops - a blog how many of these pass?

Eva

I am an NQT and am currently trying out the unions through the trial memberships offered to new teachers. My current union is the NASUWT so I got the mail shot about 'Cyber Bullying' and had a similar reaction to you, yet another load of ammo to those who think computers are evil.

I was actually cyber-stalked through myspace by a crazy parent of one of the kids in my class on my final teaching practice. It did get quite serious and helped my decision not to accept a job there. However, this could have happened had I never used the internet, in the 'real world'. Very little can happen to you online that can't happen in real life.

I will be changing my union membership as this shows a real blunt edge approach. We have a dodgy education system in England, how is staying still going to help? If every child brought a mobile phone into my class at the beginning of school on Monday we could have one of the best resourced classrooms in the country. Each child with a phone, video camera, still camera, bluetooth storage device, media player, multitrack sound recorder... and the best thing of all is that they would love to use them.

Sorry to double post, but I just picked this up on the Chris Keates quote:

'This can be a real headache for teachers when they are trying to get everyone settled down to start learning.'

'Start learning' eh? So the General Secretary of NASUWT thinks that learning only starts when a lesson formally begins.

It'not just the NASUWT. I find that quite a lot of my teaching colleagues are reluctant to use the tools that are available to them (you know the ones I mean, those who have an interactive whiteboard for decoration purposes only) even the people in charge of ICT and network administrators often view innovations as gimmicks. I often find I hit a brick wall when people "in charge" simply will not look into new possibilities because they are too comfortable as they are.
Sorry about the rant. I feel better now though!

I wonder how Kevin Brennan wrote and sent the article.

You might want to check out my thoughts on what I call Paradigm 2
http://martinrichardking.googlepages.com/2

There are many signs of the tensions between what could be refered to as 20th century "paradigm 1" thinking and practice and 21st century "paradigm 2" thinking and practice.

It's the typical tension of paradigm change.

Teachers have a real problem - stuck between students who "get it" and institutions who don't yet provide the framework to support it.

I always get a chuckle when I read statements from folks like Mr. Keates. I am looking forward to going back to school tomorrow to see what the kids might of received and then work with teachers on how we might tap into the tools they have...

Thank you Ewan for this post. We (faculty) can't ignore the technology in the 21st century.
During one of my ICT courses I've asked students if they had brought their laptops to the class to create a small lab for Wi-Fi security, only one student out of 12 present raised his hand. When I asked how many of them had Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones (smart-phones), 7 students raised their hands!
The lab was a real success!

Hi Ewan,

I don't think the problem is the technology the problem is what we do with the technology. If we create educational material which will engage the students and at the same time can be used on their 'toys' then we can kill two birds with one stone.

Students of all ages play games, let them bring in their DS lites and ipods and use them as part of dedicated time within the school curriculum, brain training is fun on the DS, creating a school wiki, listening to a teacher podcast on the ipod, you get the idea.

We need to think how to use the technology and stop running away from it, its here and its going to stay. I wonder how different teaching will be in say 10 years.

I am not a lecturer, but in my opinion the educators need trained first as in most cases the students skills are far more advanced possibly this is also a reason.

Bye for now

Hi Ewan,

I don't think the problem is the technology the problem is what we do with the technology. If we create educational material which will engage the students and at the same time can be used on their 'toys' then we can kill two birds with one stone.

Students of all ages play games, let them bring in their DS lites and ipods and use them as part of dedicated time within the school curriculum, brain training is fun on the DS, creating a school wiki, listening to a teacher podcast on the ipod, you get the idea.

We need to think how to use the technology and stop running away from it, its here and its going to stay. I wonder how different teaching will be in say 10 years.

I am not a lecturer, but in my opinion the educators need trained first as in most cases the students skills are far more advanced possibly this is also a reason.

Bye for now

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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