Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ICT in Education - A Rant! :-)

I attended a meeting yesterday where a colleague (from a social studies background but with long experience in ICT) described a paper he has submitted to a conference. He admitted himself it was "a bit of a rant". However, I agreed with many of his points and some of his suggestions for a way ahead... and decided to add a bit of my own rant here in my blog.

Sunlit classroom
Originally uploaded by Ben Cooper
The main thrust of his paper was that ICT has been in classrooms since the 1980s. Large sums of money have been invested over a sustained period of time and yet ICT is not really embedded effectively in many (most?) teachers' practice. Clearly, there are examples of good, even excellent, practice - some teachers and pupils are doing exceptionally good stuff. However, the impression is that learning and teaching in many classrooms remains untouched by ICT.

In the discussion that followed, it was acknowledged that Higher Education in general and Teacher Education programmes in particular have to take some responsibility for this. For example, there are academic tutors who never use ICT in their own teaching and the colleague who started the rant noted that he could not remember ever watching a student teach lesson that used any ICT other than a teacher led, Powerpoint introduction.

We raised the problems but were short on solutions. I would suggest here therefore that we need both a top down and bottom up attack to deal with the problems. (And possibly sideways approaches too from pupils, parents and other interested parties!)

Top down: To be fair, a great deal of money has been spent on hardware and software over the years. However, as I've argued before, there should be similarly large sums spent on giving teachers the time, not only to go on training courses, but time to play with the technology too. To explore, investigate and discover. I suspect this is why Interactive Whiteboards are so rarely used interactively - hundreds of thousands of pounds spent putting the hardware in; significantly less giving teachers time to play.

Similarly, the development of the networking infrastructure that allows every school in Scotland (I think) to connect to the Internet, and soon to Glow, is to be commended. The decision to hobble these connections with excessively rigid and over zealous blocking filters is to be condemned. Why put the resource in if you are not going to trust the professional teachers in the schools to use it responsibly? We need to see more boldness from those in authority. It is good therefore to see developments such as those in East Lothian where they unblocked YouTube without causing the downfall of western civilisation and where senior officers lead by example when encouraging the use of tools such as blogs, podcasts and wikis.

Bottom up: Teachers can bring change when they see the benefits and are given the opportunity to use them. Given the ideas and freedom to try, good teachers will make good uses of the technology. For example, this year, at least one student teacher was inspired to try Poll Everywhere with a class after seeing it in action in a tutorial - making his own mobile available to pupils without a phone and to those with no free texts. Another student was inspired after being shown the potential of games and wikis and has now set up a wiki for the classes in her placement school.

Another excellent example of bottom up developments is TeachMeet where teachers get together to share their enthusiasm. They are teacher organised and teacher led. If you can make it to TeachMeet XI on 20 February 2009, I am sure you will be made very welcome and that you will go away inspired.

Rant over. :-) What do you think? Are we overly pessimistic? Do you have other good examples of either top down or bottom up initiatives making a difference?


Craig said...

I've been going into schools as part of my "Computing Science in the Classroom" module at Glasgow Uni.

I have to say, the "I.T. Lockdown" approach to Internet access you describe I found highly annoying. I lost access to some great resources due to this (including YouTube, Twitter, and more).

I also agree with your point about the development of the interactive Whiteboard technology. Right now it just seems like a big button to click onto the next Powerpoint slide.

I'm creating some software that would allow teachers to easily create appropriate interactive whiteboard material.

I also think a great way to distribute this would be through the online medium (think iTunes store for teaching resources). But until the Internet is freed from the clutches of the filter, my project is only in development ;-)

David said...

Hello Craig

Interactive Whiteboard Button - I like it. :-)

Any tool that makes it easy to develop material would be welcomed. However, as I said, I think lack of time to play is more of a problem than lack of tools.

Kenneth... said...


David said...

Hello Kenneth

So far so good... but would you care to expand your comment?

David said...

I also got a couple of comments on Twitter.

First islayian said (over three messages!):

Remember me telling you about a classroom asst who is doing teacher training?

She is positively shocked at the attitude her fellow students are having to technology in the classroom. Generally negative.

Just another point for your rant.

I replied:

Not entirely the students fault as they pick this up from both my fellow lecturers & from school staff... more's the pity! :-(

And islayian responded:

Absolutely but also their own ideas. 2 years ago she won ed award for ICT now she is discouraged from using them by peers/staff

There was also a comment from don_iain:

Have to agree with your blog 'rant' - remember the eg of pupils not having access to the authority's own pupil page? Madness.

Kenneth... said...

Pick one concept or use of ICT in the classroom and dump the rest! One single function that will radically change pupil's learning. I see so many people on the blogosphere identifying another great web 2.0 app that I've lost count.

Take the IWB as an example: without the software the hardware's useless. The software in the form of learning objects can be very impressive but each topic need a different learning object. The level of COMPLEXITY for using an IWB is an order of magnitude greater than a textbook, jotter and pencil.

ICT will only be successful within the classroom when the level of complexity is reduced either by simplifying the technology or discovering a single unifying theme which can be used to focus effort to use ICT effectively in the class.

I think this might turn into a blog or a paper...

David said...

I thought that's what you meant. It echoes what I was saying about putting in the hardware being the easy bit.

I like Douglas Adam's comment on this theme: We don't want technology - we just want stuff that works. His working definition was - if it comes with a manual, it's technology.

The technology should be transparent - if you see the technology, it's getting in the way of the teaching.

Col said...

Sadly, almost by definition, the people who are most reluctant to use ICT will not be reading these pages. So there is perhaps a third option to add to "top down" and "bottom up" - "sideways and across". One small example: I'm a student on placement, within three days of being in school I was demonstrating to three experienced teachers from two different departments how to do something very easy *which they simply did not know was possible.* So it wasn't reluctance to take part, it was something else... I'm not sure what.... lack of awareness of the possible? So maybe thise who can do this stuff should be evangelising more to those who don't? Of course, all that good Curriculum for Excellence cross-curricular stuff will sort this out in Scotland at least (runs for cover).

David said...

I think part of it is that ICT is not seen as a priority for many teachers. With all the conflicting demands on their time, why should they spend some of it getting to grips with ICT? As you point out - often something very simple to do can have a big positive effect on learning and teaching.

I would argue that it is worth investing the time but people have been saying that for years now... Which brings me back to the original rant. WHy has ICT not become more embeded after all these years of development?

Laurax said...

Hi David
As a current student on the BEd 3 programme (taking the computers option module you are teaching) I found your rant very interesting and felt it raised valid points.
From a student perspective there is just no teaching during the BEd course on ICT, except the patronising (I feel) module in 1st year which, if you were that computer illiterate you could not have applied for Uni in the first place! What I have learnt about computers has been either self taught or from my children!!
This problem needs to be addressed at Uni level and made an integrated part of the course over the four years. This may help to alleviate the complete waste of computers (in some cases) and (especially) IWB's in schools. I would love to be able to make proper use of a whiteboard in class but as I have has no teaching in this area (except for on the current module)I,as has previously been mentioned, can only use whiteboards to show pp presentations.It is so frustrating when some of the BEd modules appear not to have a great deal of relevance to primary teaching but this area would have a huge impact on the way we could teach children and possibly other teachers who have little experience in this area.
Sorry, this has also turned into a rant - very cathartic though!
Have a good weekend and see you on Tuesday.

David said...

I agree. I think we need to challenge our students more instead of aiming for the lowest common denominator.