Why is it so difficult to integrate technology into education? So far we've used technology in the traditional framework of classrooms, lectures and teacher-lead discussion but seldom investigate how to use the net to make any fundamental changes to change the way we teach and learn. The main problem is the disruptive nature of change. One teacher or one school can try to innovate but if the system around them will not accommodate that change they will have problems.
Two articles this week have put this resistance to change into focus. The first is by Trent Batson in Campus Technology, Let faculty off the hook, where he claims that our whole concept of education (schools, teaching, classrooms) is so deeply rooted in society that we simply cannot imagine any other system. Society is built around our children going to school for around 6-8 hours a day and taught in groups of around 30 strictly divided by age. Parents expect their kids to learn the way they did and get worried if changes are made. Teachers who don't "teach" in the traditional sense will soon attract criticism. Furthermore lecturing is seen as being synonymous with teaching and if you don't offer it students may get uneasy and wonder when the real teaching will start. Politicians often talk about schools getting back to basics and see chalk and talk as the best method of teaching.
"It is one thing to use technology to improve on current practices, but another, and more challenging thing, to use technology to replace current practices and operate in ways that are completely new and counter-intuitive to us."
Basically net-based learning challenges such fundamental and deep-rooted traditions that the system simply does not know how to react. In the face of such a potentially disruptive force the natural reaction is to duck.
On a similar theme is a fascinating article on Education Next, High School 2.0, about an innovative new school in Philadelphia. Opened in 2006, the School of the Future aimed at creating a radical new approach to education using plenty of technology (Microsoft were involved in the planning process), collaborative learning and very little traditional classroom teaching. The article describes the painful process of the school's first few years where students' experience and expectations did not match the school's brave new ideas. The jump from traditional teacher-lead classroom teaching to net-based learning was simply too great for most students to handle. Parents too could not accept the lack of "real teaching" and the authorities could not accept the school's assessment procedures. The system simply could not cope with the disruptive element that the new approach offered.
One of Batson's comments fits perfectly to the case of the school of the future:
"We may have a new ecology of learning (we do), but we also have systemic incompatibility with the new ecology. The entire workflow on the academic side of institutions runs against the new ecology."
According to the article the school is beginning to emerge from the chaos and is trying to merge some of the radical new ideas to a more pragmatic level and more adapted to the existing structures and expectations. This process is clearly going to take some time for all of us.