Saturday, 22 October 2011

You Say You Want A Revolution?

... well you know, we all wanna save the world.

Thoughts from ECOO 2011

You say you want a digital revolution in education?  Is your perfect classroom a one screen per child?  Do you rage against the bureaucracy and hate that this isn't happening fast enough?

There is a lot of excitement and optimism around this, much of it centered on the idea that technology will somehow make our jobs as teachers easier.  If you honestly believe that then your optimism is blind.

Technology will give you access to information, and offer you opportunities to differentiate learning and even assess student abilities in much more minute and specific ways, but it won't make your job easier, it will make it much more challenging, especially if teaching for you is a matter of working out a lesson and then repeating it for twenty years until you retire.

If you knew how to direct a plough team of horses in the field, did you really think that a modern machine makes things simpler?  Easier to operate?  Do you have to know less to operate the machine than you did the horse?

At the Ecoo Conference this year, many people focused on specific apps that would replace a specific classroom related paper based piece of work.  This is the equivalent of creating a steam powered horse, rather than designing a train that more appropriately uses the new technology.  Using google docs to replace individual writing is this kind of thinking.  Using prezi to replace a poster presentation is this kind of thinking.  Using Diigo to replace making notes out of an encyclopedia is this kind of thinking. The real power of these tools lies in how they are different, not in how the replace an existing process, and especially in how they create collaborative opportunities.

We are trapped by our preconceptions...

Those preconceptions also feed into fears.

The collaborative nature of online tools freaked out many people at ECOO.  The heel digging around using social media (twitter and others) to expand personal learning networks was consistent across many of the seminars I attended.  Many educators still accept group work in class, but believe online collaboration is a form of plagiarism and cheating, or even worse, it somehow causes children to be preyed on by making them public.

If the classroom is really going to bleed out of the factory inspired buildings we call schools and infect a student's life in a more permanent way (ultimately creating curious life long learners), then we need to continue to develop access to collaborative online tools that don't frighten people, and act assertively to clarify new media and calm down the analogue population.

I had a knee jerk response from an invite I sent out on school email this weekend asking if anyone who hadn't PLN built before might be interested.  The teacher (a self described dinosaur) said, "I don't want to be tweeting or any of that other social media stuff.  If I want PD, I'll read a book."  I pointed out to her that most of the discussion online revolves around books we've read.  The key difference between her enriching her own teaching and the PLN doing it online is that more than one person benefits; collaboration is what super charges it.

The foundation of all this anxiety is the spectacular example our digital native students make of social media, which is usually displayed as the most asinine waste of time ever devised.  Older teachers who are techno-phobic find the idea of using digital tools for productivity as foreign as clueless fourteen year olds do.  The blind leading the blind.

I keep trying to shed some light on this, but people get very cranky about it.