What progress in 29 years?

Having just attended my 29th BETT Show in London (every one since the start of the Show!)  I’m pondering what we have achieved in nearly 30 years trying to get schools and teachers in the UK to use educational technology. Throughout my 30 years working with schools and teachers there have been those that ‘get it’ and those that don’t. It’s very clear from the BETT Show this year that technology in education is now happening globally – the Show was full of companies from all over the world. Yet I keep coming across schools where pupils’ access to technology is very poor and where teachers cannot properly factor it into their pedagogy.

Why are some schools and teachers so resistant to what others see as a ‘no-brainer’. We had lots of schools coming to the Naace stand to receive their ICT Mark and 3rd Millennium Learning Awards. They know clearly why technology is important to get significantly better learning, and they can explain it to other schools and teachers very clearly, but the message is obviously not being received by some.

This may sound a rather strange thing to say, but I am coming to the conclusion that quite a lot of schools and teachers don’t understand learning. They see school primarily as a place where teachers teach rather than as where pupils learn. At the BETT Show we have always had lots of companies showing lovely software for learning. We also have lots of companies selling content and systems primarily designed to support teaching. If you are designing content for learning is the priority to design it to help teachers present it in the way they conceptualise the topic or would it be better to design it to enable pupils to explore it in various ways in order to develop their understanding? I am not in any way suggesting that we don’t need teachers; I am suggesting that if teachers thought first and foremost about how children can learn without teachers, they would see their role differently and could use their time and skills in different ways, to have much more impact, aiding and improving the ways children learn.

There is a battle in schools that is raging now and will rage for the next three years – tablets and phones. I talked to a technical expert on a stand where they were showing their system for controlling Android devices in schools. That is for the school and teachers to control pupils’ Android devices. He had spoken to many school network managers who were despairing that their school had bought iPads that they couldn’t manage and control in the ways that they have traditionally controlled the computers on the school network. Heaven forbid! – the pupils were able to download the apps they wanted to instead of the apps the school wanted to push them towards and to teach with. And he was annoyed that they can’t technically bring the Apple iOS devices into their controlling world.

If you have a local council department whose job is to make road signs, road signs will appear all over the place for little reason and every year the department will bid for similar amounts of money so their staff can make yet more road signs. There is a brilliant example in Huntingdon where there is a huge sign after you come out of the supermarket and turn right at the roundabout. It says “Is your indicator still on?”. Haven’t they heard that indicators have been self-cancelling these last 20 years? If you have groups of young men who have been trained for war and employed to fight and who know of no other life, they will fight and will create wars in order to fight. If wars are stopped in one place they will go somewhere else and create a war. It happened in Italy in the middle ages with the wars fomented between the city states by English mercenaries and it is happening now wherever there is a lack of good government and countries can be de-stabilised.

If you employ teachers whose job is to teach in traditional ways, they will carry on doing it and will seek to subvert any system or software that promotes learning in ways that don’t require their traditional lecture, direct and control mode of teaching. There are only two ways that this can be changed; by those who give teachers their jobs re-defining those jobs, or by children rejecting controls on their learning that stop them learning in more effective ways. We are seeing the first, good leaders working with their teachers to re-define how learning happens, in the schools gaining the 3rd Millennium Learning Award. We are seeing the second in those schools still trying to block and control access to the Internet and denying pupils use of their own devices in school.

It’s taken over 30 years but I think the forces of technology for learning are now winning the war against those who want technology for teaching, controlled and limited by schools and teachers fearful that pupils cannot lead learning for themselves and others. But will those school leaders who don’t yet ‘get it’ see the error of their ways and change sides, or will they fight to the death, continuing to pressure their teachers to pressure their pupils instead of engaging their thirst for learning?

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