There has been quite a lot of discussion regarding the role of Information and Communication Technologies in schools. Much of it revolves around whether ICT is a set of skills or a subject (pssst, by the way, the answer is it’s both!). But this dichotomy misses a third, more important point: the massively important role of ICT as a medium in which to culture the transformation of teaching and learning.
In my view, the problem stems from the outmoded model upon which many schools base their ICT provision. And the very word provision says a lot about schools’ perceptions of ICT: the use of Information and Communication Technologies is something that needs to be provided, supplied and procured, rather than something that needs to be taught, encouraged and nurtured.
To be fair, many schools already realise that ICT constitutes more than providing computers and a network. However, this recognition often results in a split personality – ICT’s first, worrying symptoms of identity crisis: it is often the case that ICT Departments are put in charge of both the maintenance of the infrastructure and the delivery of ICT as a curriculum subject – which is a bit like asking the bursar to teach Economics.
Science is defined as “the intellectual and practical activity that encompasses the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. Science relies on the accumulation of previously acquired knowledge. Scientists collaborate and learn from one another. They observe, test and experiment so that new knowledge can be obtained.
Now contrast that with Education. When it comes to Education, dogma trumps evidence and strongly held beliefs win over testing, experimentation and innovation. Whereas in Science they tinker, tweak and fix, in Education we prefer to say if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
As a result, it is very sad to think that whilst Science is taking us on a marvellous and unceasing voyage of knowledge and discovery, Education remains stuck somewhere in the 19th century.
In my view, Education needs to take a leaf from Science’s book: we need to encourage research and experimentation so evidence can be obtained on which to base our practice. There really ought to be no room for dogma or belief, however strongly held. We can do better than this. We have to do better than this.
In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try and solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is provincialism, not of space but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares.
'What is a classic?’ Presidential address delivered by TS Eliot to the Virgil Society in 1944. Published in his volume of essays entitled On Poets and Poetry, 1957.
In this passage, TS Eliot denounces what he termed temporal provincialism, a phenomenon by which we undervalue past experiences in favour of the present and the instant gratification it promises.
Teachers opposed to the embracing of new technologies and the adoption of modern computer mediated means of communication often use similar arguments against those who propose the transformation of teaching and learning by exploring and exploiting the potential these new technologies may have to offer.
The internet is often criticised by teachers for prizing information over knowledge and for being a capitulation to what they perceive as a lack of academic rigour and preference for immediacy among the current generation of students. Similarly, the use of social networking sites is often disparaged and even vilified for infantilising young people’s brains and reducing their ability to communicate face to face , as if social networking were a substitute for face-to-face communication.
Such received wisdom may well be full of common sense, but it is actually unsupported by research and, upon closer scrutiny, it reveals itself to be based on assumption, misunderstanding and preconception. Actual research on the subject suggests that even the humble internet search is a valuable meaning-making activity that supports the acquisition of knowledge, the creation of remote associations and creative development. And internet searches are just the tip of a very large iceberg of untapped potential.
TS Eliot’s temporal provincialism condemns the overestimation of the present’s importance. However, I would propose that today we suffer from a kind of temporal conservatism, whereby undue relevance is being given to present, more traditional methods of teaching and learning whilst the future potential of promising new technologies is being largely ignored by schools that are blinkered by the here and now.
One hundred years ago, crossing the Atlantic took five days and travelling to the other side of the world took weeks, if not months. So, one hundred years ago, you could not have said to your friend in New York See you tonight or See you tomorrow to your friend in Sidney, because seeing them so soon just wasn’t possible.
But then came the technology and with it the ability to do the seemingly impossible.
One of our favourite adages in education has always been that technology is just a tool, that the technology doesn’t really matter and what matters is the teaching. But the technology does matter and it isn’t just a tool because, as history shows, technology has made possible the impossible time and again.
If we don’t place technology at the heart of our strategic planning and understand its transformational potential, then we’ll forever have to make do with the possible.
It’s not just about the teaching, it’s also about the technology. And let’s not forget that. Don’t you think?
Over the past two years I have been making a case for the constructive use of online social networking tools in education. This is an area of study, however, that engenders strong opinions both against and in favour of the use of social media for teaching and learning. Those in favour generally focus on the perceived benefits of improved communication among members of the school community, whilst those against tend to focus on instances of inappropriate use to justify their stance.
My own opinion is that schools ought to embrace social networking not just as a means of communication, but rather as the catalyst to transform the way we teach and learn – so you can count me in the in favour camp. This opinion is shaped by both academic research and classroom practice, and it is this marrying up of research and practice that led me to ask myself a year ago how much I actually knew about my students’ use of online social networking tools.
It suddenly struck me that schools were producing rules and regulations governing the use of social media without really understanding what role, if any, social media played in the life of their students. It struck me that anyone who was in charge of strategic planning for teaching and learning – at classroom, faculty or school level – had the responsibility to make informed decisions regarding the use of social media as a teaching and learning tool.
Yet, despite lacking crucial information, teachers, schools, educational authorities and governments, by and large, continue to ignore the fact that those entering secondary education today do not remember a life before social media. There is only a handful of schools out there that are learning by using social media and adapting their user agreements and codes of conduct to reflect new realities, in which new technologies ensure that knowledge is no longer exclusively accessible within the school walls or imparted by a single person and that this knowledge can be accessed on demand by anyone, anywhere.
So, with this in mind and with the support of my school, a year ago I decided to inform myself and ask my students a few questions to try and understand their habits and attitudes towards social networking. You may be surprised at some of the findings. Here is what they had to say: