Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Maintain the Revolution

In a recent newspaper editorial from this end of the world, in the Canberra Times, it was reported that certain schools in America, which had formerly had a policy of issuing every student with a laptop, had decided not to continue with this policy on the basis that it did not appear to have improved educational outcomes. The editor in question seemed quite pleased about this as he had, on his own telling, never entirely mastered the typewriter, let alone later evolutions in writing technology.
I guess the attitude in both cases is an unfortunate, but almost inevitable, consequence of the way that technology was introduced to the educational arena. I first started paddling around in the area in the mid 1990s. At that time, everyone was a pioneer and people with both academic expertises and computer skills were running around trying many different ways to use this new technology for educational purposes. However, while the capabilities of the new technology rocketed ahead, neither teachers, librarians nor educational administrators had much idea of the best way to make use if it. There are still teachers in schools and universities who are practically computer illiterate. They can open their email, but they don't know how to file it, trash it or delete it.
In my granddaughter's primary school, the younger kids are still being taught "computers" by their buddies in older classes. It seems that new teaching strategies based around the use of the new technology have still not filtered through to many teaching professonals, and it is still thought necessary to learn "computers" rather than using them creatively for learning something else. If the students with the laptops are using them for idling away their time in chat rooms or accessing YouTube, it is because they are more computer savvy than their teachers.
The answer is not to take away the computers, especially as there is now an ever increasing amount of high quality educational material on the web, and this is in a rapidly expanding phase. The time is ripe to take teachers at all levels of the educational spectrum out of the classroom for long enough to learn, not only the mechanics of using computers, but strategies for finding, sifting and using the wealth of educational material out there and incorporating it into their lessons. Find out how to use chat room technology to build a science project. Use YouTube to share knowledge with other students.
Those of you who are already converted can just keep practising with your quill pens, because, as users of Medieval Writing know, modern technology can be used to learn about ancient technology.

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