Selling ICT

My recent posts have been attempts to discuss the impact Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has on present day education. At least in the world I operate in. If you’ve read the last two posts you will no doubt have noticed I have a slightly strained relationship with ICT in teaching.

Nowhere is my relationship more strained than when I see teachers subjected to ICT professional development. ICT is extremely high profile in education PD but I find, at least in this context, ICT is an amusingly ironic term. I feel that it refers to technologies people in education are misinformed about, by people who aren’t communicating properly.

I know that sounds harsh but I started this blog with the intention of giving sincere and thought provoking opinion and my criticisms are genuine.

But this blog was never an excuse to moan so I’ll make four points to support my view, I’ll offer a suggestion to remedy it, and I’ll stick to my self imposed 800 word limit too. Actually, better make that 900.

Speakers who present on ICT benefits and trends usually follow a basic premise. Presentations often promote the idea of how we are witnessing an education revolution. A revolution that challenges centuries old teaching practices and conventions.

The flexibility of ICT will, for example, transform face-to-face teaching. Students no longer need to congregate in the same place at the same time, hearing only one voice lecture them on one narrow way of thinking about the world. And yet these speakers present this glorious vision in a big room – from a podium – to large groups of educators, brought together at one time and sitting row upon row, with varying degrees of attentiveness like, say, students at a lecture. So point one is that ICT seminars are paradoxical. They advocate wonderful technologies that should do away with the need to have seminars like themselves. Somehow I don’t see them disappearing anytime soon though.

Point two is that they don’t advocate terribly well. I’ve sat through my fair share of University and public lectures over the last four years and I can assure you that the traditional style of delivering a lesson is fine if the presenter has a thesis that is being substantiated throughout the talk with evidence that is well researched. These days a conventional lecture may include a little ICT in its delivery by way of a projector screen with power point slides but this (and this is very important) isn’t the essential ingredient.

By contrast ICT speakers, experts, gurus (whatever you want to call them) usually have a dizzying array of software applications to churn through in their allotted time, with no clear contention. In fact, the eclectic collection on show usually has little in common with each other, apart from loosely falling under the banner of “What’s new”. You can be sure presentations will studiously avoid power point because that is so outmoded it’s considered last century. Instead there will be a virtual film festival worth of YouTube videos flashed at the audience in rapid succession to keep the room’s mood and energy levels up. After a while this becomes irritating because it makes the same mistake Power points did. The audience is constantly being distracted from the presenter and their ability to make a coherent argument.

So this leads me to point three, which is that ICT presentations are sales pitches by default. PD speakers probably aren’t aware they are doing it. But they are selling something. The quick fire jump from one technology specimen to another is pitching the idea that ICT is marvelous and we should all jump on the bandwagon. The sales pitch may even come with sinister undertones too. Don’t dare risk being left behind by the ICT bandwagon folks. Anyone who is risks being seen as quaint oldfashioned and irrelevant!

I’m particularly serious about this point. I know expert teachers with decades of experience who have told me just how distressing they find these PD sessions. They feel their expertise and experience counts for nothing and the implication is that their life’s work practices are about to be superceded and them with it.

Thankfully though, I am confident that this is not the reality because ICT isn’t replacing anything very much. Yes, the hardware is to be found everywhere but it’s applications and processes aren’t. The reality is too much of ICT is ‘in addition to’ rather than ‘compatible with’ teacher workload.

Ultimately I don’t really have an issue with the ICT presenter or the content they’re selling. I even agree that much of it is marvelous. It’s just that I DON’T HAVE THE TIME FOR IT! I’m a bit busy filling my current job description and much of the Information Communication Technologies presented at these seminars are interesting optional extras but not efficient alternative time savers.

Here’s my suggestion. Rather than parading toys in ICT seminars to teachers and general staff, let’s install a culture of holistic, coordinated modernisation and implementation. The ICT ‘guru’ visits the school, sees the processes, speaks with teachers and leadership about their wants and needs. Then, having listened to rather than talked at educators, they could suggests useful technology AND systems to run them. Therefore making the focus more about improving efficiency and quality and less about dabbling in what’s new and shiny.

What do you think?

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