Blinkered by the here and now Why we ignore the potential of new technologies

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In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which served their turn and have been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares.

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 1, 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? 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 development2. 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.

  1. Wintour, P. (2009), ‘Facebook and Bebo Risk “Infantilising” The Human Mind,’ Guardian (London)
  2. Howard-Jones, PA. (2010) Neuroscience, learning and technology (14-19), for Deep Learning Project, BECTA, 2010.
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  1. Could the ‘here and now’ be linked to OFSTED as inspections have a major impact on teachers’ workload and have been blamed to promote ‘a culture of exam cramming’? The term ‘deprofessionalism’ has been used in the results of an NFER study on the impact of OFSTED inspections in the past.

    1. There are a number of factors that put pressure on schools and teachers. OFSTED may well be a contributing factor. However, on this occasion, I would rather place the onus on teachers to take an inward look and reflect about what exactly is stopping us from exploring the potential of new technologies in the educational context? Why is this? Do we remain sceptical about the adoption of emerging technologies because of the demands placed upon us of learning and understanding the new pedagogies? Is it, as you point out, because we often feel constrained by the contexts and pressures in which we work?  Or is it perhaps because we are simply poorly informed both about the potential advantages and the disadvantages of using new technologies in our own contexts?

      For whatever reason, teachers often view these new technologies as superfluous or simply not conducive to better learning outcomes. As early adopters begin to pile up actual evidence of how these technologies can positively transform teaching and learning, the received wisdom upon which sceptics mainly base their opposition is revealed to be very wise at all. In my view, teachers – individual teachers – have the responsibility to explore, to challenge preconceptions and to better inform themselves. This way, whatever opinion is reached at the end of this process, it’ll be an informed one.

      Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

      Isaac Asimov

      As Asimov once famously protested, I believe we must stop placing the same importance on someone’s ignorance as we do on someone else’s knowledge.

      Many thanks for your comment Sylvie.

      1. Sorry a very quick answer in
        between classes

        Absolutely, but I also feel
        that there is little room/ time for ‘experimentation’ within our teaching. For
        example I used the app songify with my pupils from year 4 to 6 as a formative
        assessment. This was highly successful as it enables pupils of ALL abilities to
        record a rap song in French on the topic covered at the level achieved. These
        were then saved and we were able to listen to a few in class. The idea was to
        make them available through our VLE to all, unfortunately time has been an
        issue and I have not yet been able to meet up with the relevant person to do
        this.

        What I wanted to stress here
        is that the onus is not only on teachers; schools need to support them as well!
        I work in two primary schools at the moment and there has been no spending towards
        CPD in MFL or/ and MFL and ICT. I financed among other sessions my attendance
        to the Southampton ICT and language conference, which was by the way fantastic.
        I do recognise my responsibility as a teacher but often face a wall.

         I feel also that time is a limiting factor
        within our context. I have little time to explore further despite spending long
        hours on my work. I certainly do not see these ‘new technologies as superfluous
        or not conductive to better learning outcomes’ but I am battling at so many
        different levels to use them regularly. I had to limit myself to integrating
        storybird and songify within my SOW at this stage. Any other new technology
        used has been a bonus.

        ‘In my view, teachers – individual teachers – have the responsibility to
        explore, to challenge preconceptions and to better inform
        themselves. This way, whatever opinion is reached at the end of this process,
        it’ll be an informed one.’

        In my view it can be very frustrating.

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