Friday, August 11, 2006

ICT: The C is for Control

When I first posted ICT: The C is for Conversation, I thought it was going to be a one off prompted by a something I'd heard in one of David Warlick's podcasts. Shortly afterwards though, I was struck by something else I'd heard and so followed ICT: The C is for Creativity. Well it seems to be turning into a series... This time though, I was inspired by some holiday reading.

I took three books on holiday this year. One was The Remains Of The Day. This book has been in my To Read pile for ages and I'm really glad I finally got around to it. I highly recommend this book.

I almost finished one of the others - Finding God In Unexpected Places. This was written by Philip Yancy a Christian author and journalist and this book is essentially a collection of his magazine articles - some are OK, some are good and some are very interesting. A good read.

However, it was the third book that prompted this post. I re-read Coming of Age. It may seem sad that I took a work related book on holiday, but in my defence I'd like to say... OK, it is sad that I took this book on holiday. However, in theory I am still writing up my MEd and I have been feeling guilty about my lack of progress so I thought I'd better take some MEd related reading with me.

So what inspired this post? Principally it was Alan November's chapter on Blogging: shift of control. Among other things he says:
Unlike word processing, or using an interactive whiteboard, or having students present a PowerPoint presentation to classmates behind closed doors, blogging shifts the concept of the control of information. Perceptions of time, space and relationships are expanded. The audience moves from teacher and class to the world. Teachers are no longer the sole or even the primary arbitrator of student work. [Page 30]
I heard Alan speak at SETT a few years ago. He told us about a school in the USA where a teacher gave the pupils some software from NASA and asked them to find out something about the universe that nobody else knew. (I may be paraphrasing!) A couple of students found out something that was so new, the teacher had to get some NASA scientists to check it! I can see that a shift of control like that could be scary - but I think it could also be exciting. A teacher left a comment on a previous post on this blog to the effect that some of the most exciting times he had ever had in a classroom came from times when pupils had taught him something new.

dance line
dance line,
originally uploaded by foreversouls
The old cliché says there should be a shift from sage on the stage to guide on the side. I've never been entirely happy with that. I agree that the teacher should not be seen as the fount of all knowledge, but I do not think that means that should be relegated to the sidelines. A phrase I have heard David Warlick use a few times is (and again I fear I paraphrase) "Our pupils can play with the software. They need us to learn how to work the information." There is more to this role than just guiding from the side. We need to be working the information with our students. The best I can come up with is: not a guide on the side but in the classes with the masses. Yes, I know it's poor but can you come up with something better - something that implies working and learning with our students rather than just guiding from the sidelines? Something that shows a shift of control without implying teachers are redundant... unless you think we are. :-)

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David Warlick said...


A great post, and I agree that control is a central part of the ongoing conversation about "the new conversation". "Guide on the side" has always bothered me a bit as well, although it does have its value.

I like to tell folks that we are redefining what it means to be a teacher -- so it's no wonder people are so upset. But it is necessary, today, that teaching becomes much less a matter of delivering instruction, and much more a matter of creating and crafting learning experiences, within which students learn to work the information in the process of playing the information.

What do you think?

David said...

Thanks David.

If you are unsettling teachers by telling them they have to change what they are doing, I think you are also giving them a really good role model to follow. "Creating and crafting learning experiences" is exactly what I hear you do in your podcasts (see for example my comments in ICT: The C is for Conversation).

Anybody else what to chip in?