The curse of technology

In a recent episode of Young Apprentice, Lord Sugar convened the teams of hopeful apprentices and proceed to set his weekly task. However, this week there was a twist, as Lord Sugar banned his young apprentices from using the internet, which he likened to “cutting off oxygen” from today’s young people.

I understood this as a device to see how the young apprentices were able to adapt to challenging circumstances. Fair enough, I thought. But many of my adult friends found it hilarious to see how the youngsters struggled to complete their tasks wading through fat Yellow Pages without access to the almighty Google on the go.

“Look how they can’t even……” “They’re lost without….” Chortle. Chortle. Fill in the gaps with your favourite generational put down. It appears each generation finds the next’s dependence on the newest technologies something abhorrent which must somehow be cautioned against and avoided at all costs. This is the curse of technology.

Douglas Adams describes this eloquently:

…anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Perhaps we should see how my friends fare if we ban the technologies they are used to…  just for the giggles. See how they communicate without a telephone, or how they take their children to school and get to work without a car or, gasp! entertain themselves in the evenings without television. It would give rise to all sorts of hilarious mishaps. How funny.

What my friends don’t realise is that, just like cars or the telephone, the internet isn’t going anywhere – it’s here to stay – and they’ll just have to live with it.

Just a thought.

What do you think?

Many thanks to Roony for the Mummy photo.

It won’t always be dark at six…

As somebody who hails from more Southern and sunnier latitudes, I’ve never really got used to just how early night falls in the late Autumn and Winter months in these Northern parts. After just a few weeks of driving to and back from school in the dark, we can all be forgiven for thinking that it will ever be thus.

Only two or three years ago I would have thought it impossible for schools to be opening Twitter and Facebook accounts to interact with the wider school community – including their pupils, of course. Such was the negative feeling among teachers that I would have been derided and lampooned  -and indeed I often was-  for having the deluded audacity to suggest that social networking could be harnessed by schools to be potentially beneficial to both teaching and learning.

Two or three years down the line, there are more and more schools and teachers using Twitter accounts and Facebook pages who are being bold and and have taken the plunge. For example, where I work, in the private sector, it is becoming ever rarer to find a school that does not have a Twitter account, a Facebook page or both.

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Schools can only ever embrace yesterday’s technology

Those of us who champion the adoption of new and emerging technologies to help improve and transform how teaching and learning is conducted in our schools are, by definition, doomed to failure.

And it has nothing to do with luddite colleagues, old-fashioned pedagogical views, unsympathetic management teams or misinformed parents, which are the usual reasons I always hear from those frustrated by seeming lack of progress in this respect. It’s all to do the very nature of what we espouse: technology itself.

The pace at which technology is moving forward is technology’s worst enemy when it comes to its adoption in schools. No sooner schools realise the learning potential of VHS video players, DVDs come out, leaving all those VHS tapes gathering dust in a cupboard. Once schools finally buy their first computers, complete with floppy disks drives, CD-ROMs become ubiquitous.

This is why many schools have hybrid VHS/DVD players and computers with both floppy disk and CD ROM drives. In many classrooms I’ve visited you can still watch a VHS video one minute, a DVD the next and then stream a video on demand from the school’s network or the internet. In the very same classroom you may be presented with the options of saving a document in a floppy disk, burning it onto a CD ROM, saving it on a portable flash drive or sending it directly to the cloud.

Schools are forever catching up… and the whole business is very, very expensive – both in terms of effort and money. No wonder then teachers and schools in general prefer the safe ground provided by the old instead of the shaky and insecure ground on which new technologies stand.

Now that some schools are taking the very brave step of rolling out tablets to all their pupils, it may be that touch-screen technology has already had its day. As Steve Wheeler points out, the future of computing is voice control, as anyone with an iPhone 4s is finding out.

So schools are doomed to only being able to embrace yesterday’s technology, because when they finally come round to doing the embracing… it’s too late.

Just a thought.

What do you think?

Is Email Already Obsolete?

Try this: ask your students – say from age 14 and younger – whether or not they have their own email account. Not a school email account. Their own email account.

I bet you a large proportion of hands will stay down as more and more students rely on social networking almost exclusively for their communication. I bet you this proportion will only increase in the coming years.

Students simply don’t need their own email account any more. With the arrival of Open Authorisation, they don’t even need email to sign up to web services, they simply sign up to them using their social networking accounts.

Is this kind of social communication the future of communication? Will this generation of children embrace the likes of Facebook or Google + as their preferred means of communication in all spheres of their lives – for work as well as leisure?

In my experience, for most children, email is quickly going the way of CDs: it’s simply surplus to their requirements, it’s obsolete.

I wonder then, is it not our responsibility as teachers to teach our students to be proficient, not just in the use of the tools of the past, but  also the tools of the future?

Just a thought.

What do you think?

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Trick or Treat? The Fear of Innovation

It’s Halloween soon. For some it’s time to carve pumpkins, dress up and get some treats ready for the kiddies. For others, it’s time to barricade themselves in their houses and pretend there is nobody at home when the bell rings, whilst wishing Halloween had stayed across the pond, where it surely belongs.

Indeed, many people’s rejection of this relatively new event in British calendars seems to be based on the grounds that Halloween – as we know it today – is an American import. But never mind the fact Halloween is actually an ancient Celtic tradition and never mind the fact that most of the other, so called, native British traditions – from tea drinking (China, 18th century) to Christmas trees (Germany, 19th century) – are both imported and properly foreign. Why such visceral rejection of a new trend?

I think the answer is that we seem to be hardwired to be suspicious of the different and the new. I think this is why new trends are slow to be accepted: it is, after all, someone else’s idea and not our own – innovation’s number one stumbling block.

In my mind, one can easily draw parallels between our instinctive reaction to the new and different at a cultural level and the adoption of innovative teaching practices in our schools: an initial adverse reaction, followed by grudging adoption.

Take social media as an example. Schools, by and large, tend to reject its use. Much like Halloween, it is seen as a threat to our own way but, much like Halloween, schools are grudgingly starting to adopt it as they realise the truth that was staring them in the face all along: all our students are already on board.

Right then, off I go to carve some pumpkins with my children…

What do you think?

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Why your school should embrace social networking

Clay Shirky captures the essence of social networking rather succinctly: social networks facilitate the creation of groups and the exploration of “new ways of gathering together and getting things done”.

Theories about socio-cultural situated learning have deep reaching consequences in the appliance of social networking as the principal means of communication, collaboration and cooperation in an educational setting, not just for individual students, but also for the whole school community. Interaction between individuals, teachers and students, co-operating in a community lies at the heart of social cognitive learning theory.

The importance of community to learning is always implied but rarely stated as a significant context in education. We all understand at an implicit level that interaction between members of the school community deepens their understanding of each other and leads to learning.

So, is a social network a substitute for community? Would the use of social networking be detrimental to the wider school community? The answer to both questions is no. Of course not. If the concept of community were not important for learning, schools and universities would have little reason to exist. The critical role of interaction in learning is reinforced by the addition of social networking to the school community, not undermined. Therefore, the addition of the social learning network augments the learning community rather than provides an alternative to it, resulting in the overall enhancement of the learning environment. It also – very tantalisingly – points towards how teaching and learning within this environment can be transformed into previously inconceivable practice, not simply enhancing it.

Research suggests that individuals join social networks to associate with others of like interest or vocation, or who know more, or who would like to learn similar things. This contrasts sharply with schools’ imposition of learning management systems on their students. Some educators have pointed out that many students tend to avoid using the school-managed virtual learning environments because they either find it difficult to use or irrelevant to their daily learning needs. It would appear then that a loose network of willing participants is better able to guarantee the commitment and engagement of the vast majority of our students.

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