It wasn't many years ago when Sir Ken Robinson made a landmark speech from the TED stage calling for a revolution in education...before it is too late. Amazingly many educators rallied to the call and soon schools around the world were rolling out technology in their classrooms - iPads, laptops, smartphones, BYOD...the fervor was palpable, the excitement electric, the results...dismal!
The media was soon filled with bad news stories, such as the failed iPad program in LA, research "proving" that technology is making our kids "dumber". Yet amazingly thousands more schools every day join the revolution, waving their iPads victoriously to celebrate change - when nothing has changed. The revolution is ending before it has even started. We need a paradigm change urgently, however paradigm changes are not easy...or are they?
Watch this short video to find out about the urgent need for us to change how we are using technology in our classrooms, before its too late!
I have spent a lot of time explaining to teachers and other educationalists the need to shift our pedagogy from simply silicon coating old approaches to one that is more appropriate to the digital realm. We have to move away from our copy/paste approach where we simply copy our offline teaching approaches and implement them in the online world to an new appropriate digital pedagogy. Our copy/paste approach is not only failing but seriously limits the amazing opportunities of what we can do with technology.
While I have been passionately trying to share this message and the importance of developing a new digital pedagogy, I am largely seeing inappropriate implementations of technology being lauded as great EdTech solutions. However, I was encouraged after reading an insightful post by TechCrunch writer, Danny Crichton, who while having spent his life working in Silicon Valley, was recently exposed to teaching for the first time.
It’s amazing to me how unprepared I was for the actual pedagogical challenges of educating my students.
He looked around for advice from lecturers and found it wanting. He then turned to technology to see what solutions Silicon Valley offered - after all, it's solved so many other problems, surely it is helping education move into the digital age?
So I did what any person in the 21st century did, and I searched Google. It was here that it hit me just how basic our pedagogical thinking really is.
And it's here that Danny puts his digital finger on the nub of the matter - pedagogy. We have not shifted our pedagogy to one that is appropriate to the digital age. And this is having serious consequences as we simply switch ebooks for books, videos for lectures, smartboards for chalkboards, and so on. This is not using technology for teaching, at best it is silicon coating old pedagogies to dress them up in the guise of a new approach.
Despite all the technology gains made by students, educators have received just a handful of useful tools to help with better management of their classrooms and the learning process. There have been far fewer “revolutionary” attempts to transform teachers than to just entirely replace the education experience.
Exactly! It's what Ken Robinson called for years ago in his famous TED talk. We need a revolution. Technology companies responded with a silicon coating. Teachers responded with passive acceptance. And now we have the biggest danger of all - we think the revolution is taking place as schools "transform" from the old chalk and talk to the digital world. Yet it's an illusion, an illusion that is in danger of killing the much needed educational revolution before it ever happens.
This is a renewed call for the education revolution. It can't be led by technology companies that know lots about technology but little about education. It won't be led by tenured academics comfortable with their ancient teaching practices. It must be led by passionate teachers, intent on exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new pedagogies, and boldly going where no teacher has gone before.
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Our current education system is flawed, as has been ably highlighted by Paulo Frere and more recently Sir Ken Robinson. Our outdated industrial paradigm is no longer able to keep children engaged in a world of ubiquitous digital stimulation. The chemical “solution” of medicating learners into becoming compliant products on the education production line, is increasingly being viewed as not only dangerous and inappropriate, but also not addressing the real problem – the flawed system. Now schools are turning their attention towards a technological solution, one that may be even more disastrous than its forebear - one that bears many of the hallmarks of the emperor’s new clothes.
While businesses have adopted technology for over a quarter of a century, schools remained largely unchanged and irresolute. As the pressure mounts from vendors offering “solutions”, to parents pointing to other schools, to decreasing attention spans of children, schools are suddenly scrambling to implement educational technology solutions and governments and industry are wantonly throwing money at this new “solution”.
Failure in the air?
However, unlike business that instructed technology companies about their needs, schools are being instructed by technology companies about how they should teach.
Now we are seeing the first signs of concern, as these technology solutions fail, and some in a grand scale as was the case in the failed Los Angeles iPad initiative. Already schools are glancing nervously at each other as they begin to wonder, “have we been sold the emperor’s new clothes?” This immediately leads to a cycle of blame – it’s the wrong technology, it’s the wrong strategy, it’s the wrong content. While all of these may be partially true, the issues are far simpler, yet far more critical. The impending failure of educational technology will be due to a lack of appropriate experts and an appropriate digital pedagogy.
Following the wrong leader
The lack of experts, may seem somewhat surprising, especially in a world where there is no shortage of experts. However it is the lack of appropriate experts that is the concern. Ironically schools are eagerly following the dictates of non-educational organizations to inform them about their area of expertise -pedagogy. This is somewhat akin to an aircraft manufacturer telling farmers how to farm because they want to use a plane for crop spraying. And so we are seeing a flood of schools using iPads, or rolling out laptops equipped with eBooks, and “valuable” learning videos, because the technology experts have told them to. The problem we have is that while technology companies understand technology and teachers understand teaching, we have few who understand technology-based education.
The Copy-Paste mistake
The second core issue is the lack of an appropriate digital pedagogy. The heart of this problem may be put down to a single word – skeuomorphism. Most people have a natural aversion to the new, and so technology giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have long employed skeuomorphic design principles to soften our transition from old technologies to new ones. Skeuomorphism is quite simply the retention of the form of the old without its function. This is classically seen in smartphone cameras that click like a DSLR camera, or pages in an ebook reader that curl as they are turned like a paper book, or a diary app with a “leather” cover and bookmark. None of these elements has any functional value, but simply carry a resemblance to the form of the past, thereby imbuing the user with a sense of familiarity and comfort.
However, it is the widespread adoption of skeuomorphic-based digital pedagogies that is causing technology-based teaching to fail. Schools are wearing their digital clothing, where they have the form of the offline world, with little valuable function in the online world. For example, lauding the use of ebooks as a remarkable implementation of educational technology. Besides saving trees, there is no difference in pedagogy. Or, applauding a school’s smartboard implementation, whereas they offer little teaching or learning differences to their old blackboard counterpart. Or, the enthusiastic use of videos on iPads for modern teaching, whereas these videos are no different, pedagogically, to a real teacher presenting a class. Simply copying offline teaching approaches and pasting them into an online world is not only limiting the potential of educational technology, it is further damaging our tottering educational system.
A new digital pedagogy
Ken Robinson called for a revolution in education because the system is failing. Schools are responding by pouring technology into classrooms. But what we're actually seeing is the silicon coating of old industrial paradigms and pedagogies while boasting about new innovative approaches. Dipping our kids in silicon by essentially replacing their chemical tablets with digital tablets will no more solve the problem than our first failed attempt at medicating our kids into learning did.
We need to seek out appropriate guides who are attempting to understand the affordances of new technologies. We need to develop appropriate pedagogies that don’t simply copy offline approaches and paste them in skeuomorphic subservience into the digital world. We need to rethink, reimagine, and redesign how we teach and learn, otherwise the revolution may be over before it even begins.
This post forms the basis of the thinking for the article published in The Conversation entitled "Outdated teaching methods will blunt technology’s power"
Watch a seminar dealing with this issue in more detail
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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