Confessions of a techno-sceptic

As teachers go, I believe I have the credentials to be considered fairly techno savvy. My present school issued me with a Macbook over a decade ago and expected me to make use of it. At the time the specifics of how I should use it were poorly defined but I feel I rose to the challenge.

I’ve used that machine and it’s replacements to generate countless lesson plans, published worksheets, reports, tests and exams hundreds of times over. I’ve made educational and promotional movies for the school, presented multi media in my classrooms and at staff meetings (and done so without resorting to ridiculous power points). I’ve researched with it, managed my professional correspondence with it and stored everything that was worth keeping on it.

Believe me, I use and value technology in my workplace. This blog is fairly clear evidence of that.

Nevertheless, I have a nagging concern when it comes to ICT in schools that sometimes leaves me looking a little bit like a technophobic luddite.

And this blog’s title is definitely evidence of that.

Basically, here’s my concern. There is a disconnection between theory and practice when it comes to ICT in education. Because we live in a computerized, online, information driven age the logical assumption is that today’s students need to be well equipped and proficient in its tools. Furthermore, students who don’t have access to these tools suffer a crippling disadvantage.

Basically, the assumption is that the best possible education for your child needs the best possible technology available.

But this is simply not borne out in practice.

The reality sees a practical operating principle at work. Wherever the latest technology does not meaningfully improve the quality, efficiency, or effectiveness of existing systems, it doesn’t take off. Therefore, despite reasonable people imagining a future world where the information age and computers in general revolutionise the way their kids are taught the reality is far less dramatic. Like the baby boomers who look around the world today and say “Hey! Where’s the jet pack I was promised as a kid?”, this youthful generation are being promised a future that is attainable but not practical.

Below I list five elements of education that are potentially ripe for revolutionary change in the modern world. Under each of them I have stated what I think is the plain reality of modern life and not the ICT revolution theory. I’ve not justified them with statistics because I’m assuming your experiences are the same as mine and that the truth of it all is self-evident. If you think I’m wrong though, please get back to me with a comment. I’d welcome the discussion.

Textbooks: Of all the areas of schooling surely this is the one where technology should have the most obvious and immediate impact. We can replace textbooks for software programs and applications. No more hefty tomes for students to haul around on their backs!

Well, it’s a good theory but the technology to do this (CD Roms and websites) has been around for almost as long as I’ve been teaching and the plain simple truth of it is that textbooks haven’t changed much and school bags are still heavy. Even now that online access and publishing house websites have the potential to be instantly updated and interactive it just doesn’t happen. Any online components that do come with textbooks are supplementary and non-essential in nature. I’ve always assumed this is because the education publishing world find it easier to make money and protect intellectual property through hard copy publishing. Whatever the reason though, progress in this area is slow.

Paper: Books, newspapers, and documents in general are created, published, emailed, read and stored on computers, tablets, smart phones and e-readers with ever improving quality. No more need for paper!

Hah! Who are we kidding?! I work in a school where every teacher and students has a computer and the amount budgeted for paper there is still enormous. So is the budget of every other school. Schools wont be paperless until society is and that has yet to occur. That said, I see commendable efforts often, including one or two that use WordPress as their platform. Good luck everyone!

Assessment: With Local Area Networks and secure remote access improving all the time, sitting tests and even examinations in big rooms with rows of students should become outdated.

Sorry, that’s just never going to happen on a large scale. Particularly for senior students and their finishing school examinations. There’s certainly a great deal of technology that goes into the organisation and administration of such exams. But just think about it, the task requires a system that can handle a high volume of students, authenticate that these students are who they say they are, be sure the work is theirs, and be sure that as few technical glitches get in the way as possible. Nothing comes close to achieving this as well as the classic examination scenario. Big rooms where students arrive with ID in one hand, pens in the other, and they all do the same task at the same time is an old but reliable system.

By the way, this is another reason why we’ll never fully achieve a paperless classroom. In my subject area (English) the final year exam equates to 3 hand written essay to be completed in 3 hours. The students not only need me to teach them subject content and skills, they need me to train them for the sheer physical demands of the exam. That means computer lids down and pens in hand.


Teachers: With so many resources and networking opportunities available on-line, lesson planning time for teachers can be reduced and the quality of the lessons can be improved. Online testing and data tracking systems will lead to better management of students. Technology in the classroom will improve lesson delivery too!

(sigh) yeeeessss, in a hypothetical Universe I suppose it could. The reality though is that curriculum is slow to change and still very much reflects as expectation that the teacher works from the front of the classroom close to board (be it black, white, or interactive). There is some genuinely interesting work being done by individuals with modern technology but this is almost always done because of personal passion for the task and rarely does this go beyond experimentalism.

As for the technological tools that now seem obligatory for a modern teacher, never forget that Archimedes taught humanity with a stick in the sand. If you’re really good at this job, you shouldn’t need any of the bells and whistles.

Schools: It could be argued we no longer need classrooms now that lectures can be recorded, stored online and presented on demand. Through the use of chat rooms and wikis, teachers can effectively monitor and mentor students through a course. In fact, today entire courses can be completed on line from anywhere in the world. The Khan Academy is an example of subject delivery that has a high level of quality and integrity. If students have access to ever improving standards of education perhaps schools themselves are an outdated concept.

I have a lot of time for the Khan academy, it’s a good idea that seems to fulfill its potential. I also really like the idea that I can access the highest quality courses and minds on Uni websites and iTunes U from my kitchen table. However, I’m a fully grown (and occasionally mature) adult and my academic needs are all that need to be met this way. The same cannot be said for children.

We are a social species and we need to learn how to live amongst others. We learn this at school. Schools aren’t exactly a microcosm of society but they are places where we nurture young people and prepare them for society. If we leave them to do this at home society suffers. This is one institution that isn’t going anywhere.

Right…so having completely blown my self-imposed 800 word limit out of the water, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface on this thing and could go on forever. Over to you now though. If I’ve struck a nerve with you, feel free to comment and we can keep going.

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