August 11, 2006

New technology is a no-brainer for the classroom

"We did fine without the technology"; "we need more research before claiming new technology improves school attainment". The proof that we must move rather than just research first, do later, comes streaming in. The BBC report on research by Ofcom showing 16-24 year olds in the UK spend at least 3 hours on the net, and more than half own a console and/or MP3 player. There is a great rundown of UK homes' habits (and the official lengthy report) as families move into broadband, internet telephony, social networking and online video viewing, spurred, presumably, by the young people living there.

The arguments that new technologies are just a fad, a cherry on the cake, an added extra, a bolt-on, a treat, something we can pass by, nothing that a good PowerPoint can't supercede, nothing that a textbook hasn't achieved until now, nothing that our best exam factory schools can't do without... all of  this is is just keich. The teachers touting this must wake up to the fact that they are not engaging their kids unless they do use these technologies, the ones the kids use. Moreover, they're not really preparing them how to cope with the information being passed over to them unless they teach how to manipulate and analyse that information with these tools.

The research only covers those aged 16-24, but with the Web's 15th birthday party just over, those aged 16 and under have known nothing but the web. Those aged 5 and heading into primary school will be our first read-write generation this year.

Alarm bells should be ringing in any Local Authority or country not designing strategies to get these technologies commonplace into their classrooms. And that includes this lot, too.


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Your passionate belief in New technologies and the the benefits that they can bring to teaching and learning is truly convincing. I feel that that, even though the research evidence is still to come in many ways, that your view that teachers, schools, local authorities et al. need to be embracing these technologies, and fast, is correct. However, it makes me think of my time as a NOF trainer and the challenges that were faced then. Back then I felt much the same way, that teachers weren't engaging learners as well as they could if they weren't use ICT. Some of these teachers were excellent practitioners though who felt a real sense of being professionally deskilled because they weren't using ICT. These issues that you discuss are somewhat the same now with the way that web2.0 is evolving. The question is do we lead the way but take teachers with us? If we crack this then we will make progress.

Teachers have to get familiar with the tech - use it because they know they have to. There are still people out there who don't like having to phone strangers - how well do we think they get on in today's world? It's not enough to moan that they're too busy to "play around" with technology (they always use pejorative verbs) - it's part of the job-skill package, surely? And if a BOF like me can learn to use it while still teaching a full timetable of English classes I don't see the problem - other than unwillingness.

Well if we add the technologies to our current practice rather than replace it, then we can at least say will not do any harm. If my children type up a poem, as they would have before web 2.0 to put on the wall, it only takes (given access to the tools) a few more minutes to blog it. I want them to discuss or give a class talk, it is not much more bother to podcast it. (given access to a quite room and some kit).

I think those who wish to promote the new toys need to take it slowly. I was lucky, I learned to blog without hearing about Web 2.0 and all the other stuff I took my time and after a couple of years took my knowledge and skill into school. I had not heard of podcasts (no such word), wikis and all the other web 2.
A teacher getting inservice now will, in a very short time, hear about a plethora of tools, dabble in a few, and probably leave overwhelmed. It might be an idea to introduce these tools one at a time and give plenty of time to practice.
It is also quite easy to, say, learn to blog, get your class to make a few posts keeping it going. How many school class blogs lie abandoned on the web.

If I was encouraging Web 2 in the classroom, and had ideal conditions, I'd want to pick a few classes, give them one tool each and visit and support weekly for a year. Work with the teachers, work with the children fit in with their existing practice extend it a little and repeat. The next year start tapering off the support, introduce a forum at some point so the teachers involved can start to support themselves, do everything many times.

Those aged 5 and heading into primary school will be our first read-write generation this year.. Well some of them, there are still areas of Scotland where only 30% of secondary 1 and 2 children have access to the web at home, these are might the children who need new tech the most and will be the least likely to be able to benefit from it. John Connell (I think) was talking about digital access as a right, if children have a right ot education maybe that should include the right to digital access.

Maybe The question is do we lead the way but take teachers with us is the wrong question, horses and drinking.
A lot of teachers feel tired of being lead to a new development that might be abandoned or reversed as soon as they have got it figured out. Also thinking of NOF, in my own school there were a few folk who said, waste of time, you'll never get me up in one of those. They all have home PCs now, book holidays online and are starting to bring that into the classroom, it just took longer than anyone thought.
Also access to kit and time to adopt the New Technologies is going to keep being a problem until the device:pupil ratio grows will alway hinder classroom organisation.

Web 2.0 fans and New Technologists sometimes have a short attention span (I know I have), patience and the long haul is more boring that diving about digging up new tools but it might give a better chance of long term success.

I whole-heartedly agree with the scenario of focused support that you detail. With NOF my experience was that there was no real plan for implementation of approaches being promoted and developed within a school once I, as the staff tutor, had moved on for a month or two. Much of the training was delivered but there was no cohesive framework about which teachers could try to make these 'new ideas' work in their class in their school. Things are diferent now though. I don't believe that we are in the same place now in respect of teachers ICT skills and their ability to make technology part of what they do in teaching and learning. I have seen huge changes in the ICT skills sets that students bring with them to B.Ed(P) courses that I taught on. Maybe I a litle too cautious in respect of how we can 'take teachers with us' but I am quite sure that there are greater numbers out there ready to engage with new technologies in the classroom. The pilots that Ewan and hopefully myself and others undertake will help to eatsblish a successful Scottish perspective on this.

Ewan, I don't know if you saw David Warlick's article the other day on the role that games can play in the classroom and the reason that people enjoy playing games so much. But, your blog entry makes me think of David's article.
On a slightly different note, I agree that web 2.0 is not the future, it is here today. However, we must remember that using technology for its own sake has no real point. The purpose of using technology is to make our lives easier, to enable us to accomplish our objectives more effectively. Therefore we shouldn't simply promote the use of technology in classrooms. Instead, we should promote the use of technology to improve our abilities to help our students fulfill educational objectives. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think technology for its own sake is important. That's hogwash. What is the point of a pencil if we don't write with it? What is the point of technology if we don't create with it?

Andrew Pass

We've also got to remember that for the past year or so there has been an explosion in the number of blogging and podcasting classes in Scotland - far more than anywhere else in the UK - and this is down to hard work that has already gone on in workshops, email correspondence, conferences and so on. The trick is going to be making that process more sustainable and making new tech use the norm across one whole Authority, East Lothian, just to prove it can be done.

...and on Andrew's note, I spend most of my days talking to teachers about how they teach, not what they teach with. The improvements in results, though, that have been had here would *not* have happened without the technology, so yes the tech does make a difference. It also encouraged the teacher (and plenty of other commentators) to use more regular formative assessment.

I, for one, do not believe tech for its own sake is worthwhile - you've obviously not listened to one of my talks ;-) It's not about the tech, it's about the teach...

Ok she says pausing for a breath!!!!!
Seamless, incindental ICT, that's where it's at. The wheel is grinding too slowly for me. Many of my 7/8 year olds have skills and access to web 2 well in excess of some of our staff. The digital immigrants are dragging their feet with a plethora of semantics. The horse and stable door....if we don't get into gear...we'll actually be boring our pupils rigid by the time we get around to doing things in school that are commonplace for them in real life! Teacher there's an issue..time we did the same there as we do in our AifL type practices. Teachers have different learning styles, too, and need support in a formative way. What do we do with teachers to help further progress? We give them inset and then say go away and do! Deliver more hardware to schools in boxes that don't get opened? Or they might hear the occasional inspiring speaker and not have the hardware. Here's a whiteboard that'll sort yer fear of ICT in class!! You're not sure? But you were on the course!
I did a school survey of what the children did at home. They 'played on the computer'. At school they 'worked on the computer'. So arguably...let them feel that it is light and incidental and they tell me that it doesn't feel like work. Now, getting that through to teachers, having them relinquish just a toaty bit of control and ego and allow themselves to learn from the wee smarties, that would be something! Oh and..86% of our pupils have home internet access. I'm at the stage now where I think a boot and a behind need to connect, but am still pondering exactly whose boot and whose behind. (Interested to hear of candidates) We're letting our children down if we don't get a new gearbox soon!

Frustrations shared, and I like the idea of using AifL techniques with them. I also agree that one course and then stopping all support doesn't work. When we did the Communicate.06 conference in March for MFL teachers we followed up with 2 months of support online, yet we STILL had teachers who did nothing with it. Que faire?

I think sometimes we have to take the enthusiastic teachers with us first, then the reluctant but strong teachers then the dinosaurs (if there's time). Ironically, it's these 'weakest students', the dinosaurs, who take the most time, effort and money to bring around.

Hi Ewan,
On the last, maybe is is not necessary for all teachers to use ict in innovative ways, maybe it is best to leave your dinosaurs alone, they might be doing something else interesting anyway.
People who have the chance to push this stuff forward are few and far between (thinking of your new job title;-)) time is too valuable to spend trying to persuade the unwilling, target the willing, if that produces the goods the unwilling will come round, or someone will make them.

I still think it *isn't* alright for teachers not to engage with this new technology. It is not alright for teachers to rest on their laurels because results are good, or their kids are perfectly happy doing x, y or z. There are a couple of points:

1. how do they know what their children think of what is being learnt? Learning logs? I'd like to see them and then speak to the kids one on one.

2. the kids don't know what they are missing out on until they get it. Maybe their experience could be better. It has to be seen in each case, but evidence seems to point to better more enjoyable experiences.

3. The kids are going to have to use new technology in their futures to have the best chances of success in life. By disengaging from it as if it is less important means we are not preparing those youngsters, to competetive disadvantage.

And that's *not* alright.

I do agree with you, though, on the time factor. It might take time to work these things out, but there is only so much time around and I don't know if there is enough to play nicely with the dinosaurs. ;-)

But there are other thing as well as ICT that can enhance children's experience. Teachers are under a lot of pressure from new developments, which often peter out giving rise to cynicism. I am sure my class are missing out in areas other than ict, say philosophical enquiry, which are newish and important.
Once the creases are ironed out of using web 2 in the class then the authorities can start to tell teachers to get on with it.
Until then we need to concentrate on giving good experience to all the children we can. Demanding that everyone uses new tech will lead to a lot of bad experience for children and teachers, not good evidence and argument for using NT in the class.
I am going round in circles here, back to my first comment, but my opinion is be adventurous in our practise, keep it going and conservative in evangelising. Mind you it is not my job to evangelise;-)

I don't see it as my job to evangelise, either. My job is to get technology in use where it will make a difference, and make sure that time and effort are not squandered where it will not make a difference. There's no 'demanding' going on. I think we're on the same wavelength here, but risk-taking is part of being adventurous. To help people take risks needs confidence to make them see it through. Changing habits can be a 'bad experience' for all concerned, but coming out the other end should be more positive for all concerned, no? I am daily reminded that being enthusiastic about new things has two possible outcomes: resentment or enthusiasm back. Does it make me want to be less enthusiastic? No - that's not me. What it does make me want to do is work with teachers in the same way as I work with students when teaching and learning foreign languages - little bits at a time, seeing small bits of a large picture but reassuring the learner that they are on the right path.

I think we're on the same wavelength here Yep;-)
especially this:
little bits at a time, seeing small bits of a large picture but reassuring the learner that they are on the right path
And I think this comment of yours will hit the nail.

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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?

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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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