I’ve been inspired to begin this blog as a response to the ever increasing focus on technology in education. I’ve watched, I suspect like many colleagues, as schools have invested more time and resources in increasing their IT capacity. I’ve become uneasy about this without really being sure why – it’s certainly not because I don’t think it’s potentially worthwhile – so I decided to explore the issues further.
I was introduced to the SAMR model by a colleague and, as a result, wondered whether my unease was over staff simply substituting poster paper for powerpoint – this was a huge focus in my training where we were discouraged from using technology if it didn’t teach students both about history and technology at the same time – but I realised that this wasn’t really valid as staff were producing some excellent ICT based lessons.
Then I came across the TPAK model which made me wonder if it was an issue of training for staff: are we able to make informed decisions about when we should and shouldn’t be using technology? Or what technology we should use? Well actually – probably not, but again this still didn’t get to the heart of my concerns.
I did briefly consider whether we weren’t using technology in an ambitious enough way – there is some suggestion (mainly from the USA) that teachers are resisting a de-centralisation of education because of fear over their professional status. The suggestion is that we could solve disenfranchisement with education if we allowed students to focus on doing what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it rather than having to mediate it all through teaching staff and their ideologies and experiences about education.
None of these reasons were adequate explanations for my unease however; I certainly don’t believe that technology should be revolutionising education in terms of completely scrapping the model that has been established for over 2000 years, a model which does work effectively in many schools in enormously challenging circumstances (especially as, as a history specialist, the American goals described above bring to mind the less than successful reforms of the Soviets after the 1917 revolution…!) . Instead, I came to realise that I believed that the problem was not that education hadn’t been sufficiently revolutionised by technology, but that technology hadn’t been sufficiently revolutionised by education.
Technology should be acting to enable more teachers to work like those who are performing most effectively in schools across the world, enabling all teachers to: quickly get to know students’ strengths and weaknesses, tailor and adapt their lessons to these needs, provide timely, focused feedback, share best practice with colleagues and, yes, engage students. But technology is not fulfilling on this possibility as it could be.
I see this as being for two reasons, both linked to the systems being developed around computing and education. The first reason is because of the big technology firms: whilst Google Education and Office 365 all have their evangelists, and undoubtedly offer some benefits, they are essentially repackaged enterprise products and therefore don’t offer anywhere near the functionality required to really transform education. What they rely on is the goodwill of the profession and huge amounts of teacher time to make them fit for purpose. Teacher time is always at a premium and this is therefore clearly not sustainable. This is compounded by the fact that these products were not designed from the ground up to solve all of the challenges facing teachers today in a co-ordinated way and therefore fall short of what technology could be doing.
The second reason is linked to the other big technology firm in education, Apple. With the adoption of iPads in schools, some parties in education have been encouraged to tackle the challenges facing teachers through the creation of standalone apps. Some of these are excellent, having as their starting point a clear challenge facing teachers that couldn’t be solved in the same way without the use of technology (an M or R in the SAMR model). However, this leads to atomised solutions to the myriad challenges faced by teachers, where they have to use multiple apps, which don’t communicate with each other, to deal with their day-to-day activities – once again wasting teacher time and energy.
There are some bright spots out there, Knewton for example, or Illuminate – who are focusing on the use of technology to solve a specific problem. However, even these have their limitations in terms of the breadth of functionality they offer and therefore miss some opportunities.
It has therefore become apparent to me that there are enormous opportunities in using technology in education, and some amazing work is being done across the globe. However, what frustrates me is that, despite technology having a previously unseen ability to link together the work of teachers and enable collaboration, we are still duplicating work and wasting teacher time through the flaws in the systems we have been forced to adopt. This blog will therefore have two purposes: firstly to share some small examples of solution focused use of ICT employing current technologies, and ask for feedback; and secondly to act as a sounding board for what teachers actually want from their technology. In this way, it will hopefully act as a spur to the big firms to design some systems for education that are fit for purpose: needless to say, everyone concerned would reap enormous benefits from this.