I just found out that I’m one of about 20,000 people in Australia working in the area of information and communication technology in education (http://www.acs.org.au/statistics/compendium2009/pdf/ICTStatsCompendium.pdf). Wow. That’s a lot of us. My first reaction was, why aren’t we having a bigger impact?
Turns out this figure is actually only 3.71% of all the nations ICT workers, so maybe thats why. You see what I did there? The big picture perspective does matter.
I’m fortunate that my job does have scope for analysing research around ICT integration and pondering these kinds of matters so I can best support schools who are moving towards mobile and transformational learning programs (specifically the XO laptop, but also other platforms such as iPad’s and iPod’s). This led me today to this big picture article: Global trends in ICT and Education http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/10-global-trends-in-ict-and-education that lists mobile learning, cloud computing, 1:1 computing, ubiquitous learning, gaming, personalised learning, redefinition of learning spaces, teacher generated open content, smart portfolio assessment and teacher managers/mentors as the top 10 trends happening in ICT and education right now. Shorter and easier to quickly read than the similarly useful Horizon reports (http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD5810.pdf), this blog post has however inspired a series of comments many times its length, my summary of which is: ‘lofty ideals vs on the ground realities’.
We seem to waste so much time in this field debating which of these two extremes deserves to be the guiding light. In response, I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of saying – there is an easy solution (more on that in a moment). Basically the commenters were saying either that yes, these big picture trends should be what educators aim at, or that no, realities close to the ‘coalface’ (there’s that industrial vestige still hanging around) of schools and classrooms should be the priority. One comment from a teacher in Morocco in particular really effected me (‘the true trends’, anonymous). This teacher states that “that in most parts of the world teachers are still fighting to get colored chalk from the administration of their schools”. Wo. Didn’t see that one in the top ten trends. They go on to say that while their school has one multi-media room with PCs, its little used, and that a training program for teachers to encourage ICT use only focused on theoretical topics, not practical issues, and thus was largely irrelevant. The teachers own efforts in using a blog to enhance learning had gone completely unnoticed and supported by the schools administration. You can understand a person like this questioning the if the global trends were trends or just buzz words.
So instead of ‘global’ trends, perhaps we should say ‘western’, or ‘for those who can afford it’, or ‘for those who live in cities’ etc. My own work in partnership with One Laptop per Child Australia’s 1:1 XO laptop deployments is giving me a unique and treasured chance to see what education in some of the disadvantaged schools of my own country is like. One Laptop per Child could certainly be said to have lofty goals. “Give poor, disadvantaged children a laptop?!” Many people say “What about food, clothing, and water?” Even those who can see that a digital education is key to help give students a chance to connect with a wider world and create their own solutions to such problems may have other questions such as “what about our existing curriculum and mandated testing?”, or “we don’t have a culture of individual ownership here, how can we give laptops to kids to take home and expect them to come back to school?”.
So, should we aim high? Or take care of local problems first? If we do aim high, how can we stop on the ground complications from impacting the benefits that ICTs might otherwise bring? Does it have to come down to a one or the other choice?
“There is another” (- Yoda, Empire Strikes back). My offering here in this debate, gleaned from spending a few years now working in my own school, with teachers across my state, and now across the country to help teachers integrate technology in their pedagogy amounts to this – there is a middle way. See, easy! Don’t take one or other side – look for the exact mid-point. Ok? Article over.
So why doesn’t this occur? Why is it that the continuous commentary on the success or otherwise of One Laptop per Child on a site like www.olpcnews.com, or the debate on the Global Trends post referred to in this article always come down to aim high, OR focus on local problems almost exclusively?
Hard work, thats why. Not that educators are avoiders of hard work, far from it. But whether you are an administrator planning a technology deployment, or a teacher dealing with a busy classroom, you are no doubt already working at your limits, and finding an approach that marries the best of two lines of thinking is always going to be harder than sticking with one or the other.
So am I going to specify what this middle way is to ease the burden so to speak, if I really am saying this is the way to go? I would, except I don’t fully know yet myself… , sorry.
See what I did there again? I raised your hopes, only to leave you somewhat disappointed. Why would I do that to someone who has faithfully read the last 850 words? Because, you don’t need my solution. In effect, you are your solution, as long as you know not to stick just to one camp or the other.
What I do humbly suggest though, is these two things:
1.Plan plan plan: The most lofty but potentially transformative ideas tend to convert into hot air if left to do all the work themselves, or if its assumed that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is sufficient. Please don’t allow this to happen. Effective transformation opportunities in schools are too rare to not do the hard work behind the scenes of planning every step, and answering every local question first before they get asked. In this way, you can base your plan on the right big picture goals, but address on the ground issues as well.
If you’d like a basis on which to do this planning, have a look and download this detailed planning guide that gives 21 steps to take your school through http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/pdf/scbyte-21steps.pdf. It bravely but sensibly leaves handing out the actual technology until step 20. Have a read to see why.
2. Change the minds. “THERE IS SOMETHING WHICH COMES BEFORE TECHNOLOGY. It’s the mind of people.” So says our anonymous teacher from Morocco. Research shows that teachers are the biggest factor effecting the long term success of technology deployments (see page 10, http://escholarship.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1236&context=jtla). Therefore, it is vital that teachers engage in processes that allow their pedagogy to best support the possibilities that 1:1 classrooms and technology rollouts in general offer. This means effective teacher training that gives the theoretical big picture argument as well as the means to apply this locally in ways that enhances existing practice as a means to starting them on a journey where the potential of ICTs to inspire transformation can begin.
I’ll have more to say about this stage of the process in a future post…
NB. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these posts are all mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, including my employer.