Yesterday, I attended a conference all about ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ (TEL), and it was brilliant.
I’ve tried to avoid anything that has the words ‘teaching’ or ‘learning’ in it, so scarred and traumatised have I felt from 11 years in a large state secondary school. If I go on and tell you that the Head was forced to resign in January because, finally, the OfSted report went from ‘satisfactory’ (on three previous occasions) to ‘requires improvement’, you may begin to understand why. And if the word ‘finally’ makes it sound like a positive thing, in spite of the pain the good people left behind will be going through right now, I think it IS. The Head instilled a culture of blame where everything was put down to poor classroom management, and the amount of paperwork and spreadsheets that had to be completed exploded exponentially (a sure sign of panic).
Anyone that knew me as a teacher will know that I used technology in my classroom at every opportunity. I could make my smartboard work so hard it begged for mercy, and I made use of every appropriate resource on the WWW that was wasn’t filtered out by the network. And yet, one of the things that made me very cross was the idea that, if you give students access to technology in, say, the form of a set of shiny new tablets (preferably Apple because, you know, cool….. apparently), learning will miraculously happen. Such ideas usually accompanied others like the ‘flipped classroom’ – the idea that you ask your students to watch a video as homework, and that you will discuss the content of said video in the classroom afterwards.
The trouble with these ideas is that they don’t take account of what happens inside a real classroom with real students in a real state school.
Tablets will be instantly misused. Students, if allowed access to the www, will look at everything (or at least try to) except that thing you actually want them to be looking at. The possibilities for distraction are endless. Flipped classroom? What happens if the student just doesn’t bother to do the homework? And you can bet it’ll be the student who is already disruptive. Or, more often that the media would have you believe, some students just don’t have access to the www to be able to even attempt the homework. And as far as tablets are concerned, there are other issues such as how the IT department is going to support you when they don’t work. Even blocking access to the www, or imposing some kind of filter, can be difficult if your entire school network is set up for Windows, and you’re using Android or Apple.
However, having said all that I’m a massive supporter of technology being used to enhance learning, but there have to be some systems in place to make it successful. Less-filtered access to the internet horrifies most people working in a school environment, but actually the problem is one of education and behaviour management. Give students their own log-in details, unique to them so access can be monitored, make them RESPONSIBLE, and if they do something they shouldn’t, sanction them. The problem lies with the school to educate and remind, and the student to abide by the rules. And then of course enforcement of the rules has to be a whole school responsibility, with transgressions being taken seriously and dealt with NOT by the tutor or classroom teacher, but by senior management. You know, the people with the proper authority. Get that right, and you can have students using their own smartphones and tablets if you like, but until that culture is properly instilled, its pointless.
And to return to the subject of this blog post, the conference yesterday was not about technology, actually, but about the way technology can and is being used by educators in the real world of the classroom. Ok, by ‘educators’ I mean largely lecturers in the setting of a university, but there’s absolutely no reason why all of the things mentioned yesterday can’t be used in a secondary school environment. And I’m not referring to the ‘closed’ environment of the secondary school classroom with, if you’re lucky, a working smartboard with up-to-date software, but access to all the amazing on-line tools like Tumblr and Vine and Canva and Soundbible and, yes, Facebook for setting up groups (or Edmodo is FB is too much for you), or Google Classroom…..
The phrase ‘digital literacy’ is bandied around a lot, but to my mind it’s more than just educating children to navigate the world of the WWW critically, thoughtfully, and safely. It’s also about allowing them to use all the wonderful tools that exist out there, to help them with their own learning, guided by the teacher. Which also implies that teachers need to be digitally literate too.
After yesterday, I realised that I really do miss being in the classroom. There’s still a long way to go to let technology enhance learning, and in some cases it’s going to result in a paradigm shift of momentous proportions as control is let go and a properly digital environment is embraced, but it needs to happen. I’d like to go back to the classroom, but also find a way to promote TEL and support schools and teachers as they move forward. I also want to promote technology and web/computer science as careers for women, and I think I may well be able to combine both. I think, though, I’ve answered the question I was thinking about in my previous post.