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Technology in Education: So what’s different?

October 2, 2011

Research in education in general, is too often preoccupied with details that border on the barely significant.  We get excited about the slightest evidence of a change in motivation or engagement, or self-efficacy, etc. In the past thirty years, we have seen a multiplication of research publications in the field. Articles abound about these new findings about details.  The reason is simple and well known: as academics, we all have to publish or perish and so, we do studies with the honorable intent to make a real contribution to the science of education. Unfortunately, in spite of this accrued intellectual activity and productivity, we tend to see little real progress in the fundamental thinking about education, let alone it’s practices.  As far as within the education system, it has had a tendency to replicate itself with most of the changes occurring at an administrative level, while basically maintaining a status quo in the classroom. We do not really question the “raison d’être” of our education systems; we simply accept that it is, somehow, to help the next generation take their place in the society or the economy of the 21st century. But we do this by using ideas and logic of the past century.  Maybe this new century, and the change in thinking it will bring about, should be examined……  This is not to say that this research and all these projects are not of some interest, but we should ask:  have these findings actually changed the way education operates?  Are we looking, or at least trying to look ahead? We still have classrooms full of kids grouped by age and under the control of a single teacher being taught a single isolated subject with the odd sprinkling of interdisciplinary activity often called “projects”.  What about learning how to learn? for life!!  There needs to be a change in thinking about education, a REAL change.

Now bring in Computers In The Classroom!

Another one for the books is the concept of integrating computers in the classroom!!  Heaven forbid that we should challenge the classroom concept!!

In the past thirty years, what has technology changed in our educational thinking or practice? Well, let’s see: now the chalkboard is being replaced by an interactive whiteboard, and the books by e-readers.  The question that remains is simply: how do these technologies challenge the traditions of teaching and learning?  Let’s face it, they don’t.  They were specifically designed to support the tradition, not challenge it, and without that challenge to the traditions, education cannot move forward.  Thomas L. Russell has stated it so simply: “No significant difference” – if we integrate technology in the classroom without changing anything else…  we achieve nothing, except spend tons of money and make good pictures for the local newspapers!

Technology is a representation of the social group that uses it.  What do the school administrators use? What do the teachers use? What do the students and children use?  If we get specific around the idea of digital technologies, then we could posit that the ideas that can challenge the traditions of education are probably best represented by the digital technologies used outside of education.  Actually, if they are banned within education, they are probably the ones with the highest potential to foster a change in thinking about education!  Technology in the classroom, brought in by the teachers, principals and parents has not changed the educational paradigm, but maybe technology brought in by the kids could?

And instead of putting the technology in the classroom, what about putting the classroom in the technology?  If we consider the classroom as a means to an end, a tool to support a process, why not consider some technologies as useful to fulfill the same functions as the classroom by also solving some of the problems and limitations of the classroom? Or better yet, why not have a critical look at the concept of the classroom and only extract the functions that actually support the learning process and not the administrative structure.  This is when ideas like online learning and MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses) for example, can become interesting challenges to the old concepts – but only if we are ready to approach this with an open mind.  This openness is necessary to allow the free movement of information and ideas between all participants in the educational or learning exchange.  In such a learning exchange, the fixed traditional roles disappear and are replaced by a dynamic acceptance of momentary responsibilities that are entirely dependent on the activity collectively agreed upon as a support for … learning.  The online context can allow for this, particularly with the emergence of social medial and powerful mobile devices.

I would suggest that this needs to be explored and studied far more than it is at present, not just as an interesting addition to the classroom but as a clear challenge to outdated thinking and as a means to critically examine all aspects of the educational act.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 10:56 am

    This is a great bit of disruptive thinking. I work in corporate e-learning, and my partner works in a school. Our understanding of learning technologies are poles apart. I am interested in what educators are doing with technology and each year when I attend the BETT (British Educational TT) show in London I see lots of ‘classroom tech’. Last year I tried to find a VLE – nothing! Of course the core problem is that the education business model relies on ‘bums on seats’ – not ‘eyes on screens’. Putting the ‘classroom in the technology’ seriously threatens the status quo. I feel a blog article coming on. Thank you for the seed!

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