Monday, September 6, 2010

'It's not about computers, it's about learning'

The headline here comes from an article I've just read called In Schools of the Future, Students Learn Best by Doing, Vigorously and Digitally (from the blog Connected Principals). So many discussions about the use of IT in education get bogged down in endless discussions about the merits or demerits of various tools and applications instead of examining how we should use technology to enhance learning. As long as the discussion is limited to tech issues the decision makers will tend to simply delegate the question to the tech people. We need to focus on how learning can benefit from the almost limitless opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing that modern technology offers.

"It’s not about the computer; it’s about the learning.  Our students today both want and need to be active, engaged, collaborative, on-line, vigorous, empowered, creative,  solvers of real-world problems.   They need to be skilled and informed to do so, but they need to be challenged, motivated, and engaged in doing so."

Digital tools should be as pervasive as pens and paper in the classroom and we need to fully exploit the potential of the net instead of worrying about how it might interfere with traditional classroom structures and models. Most of us learn best by doing and not simply by listening. The real learning takes place when students are working together, discussing, testing, arguing and formalising. Digital skills such as information retrieval, referencing, networking and source criticism will be required in future careers and it is essential that these are integrated into the whole education system.

It's not about learning technology it's about how to use technology. Not about learning only how to use one tool but working out how such tools work in general and deducing strategies for using whatever tools you may need in the future. Computer skills are only a small part of this. The skills that are required are actually not new at all; reading, writing, critical thinking, collaboration, scientific investigation etc. The new element is that we use these skills in new environments and in ways that were not possible before. If we only teach pupils and students to use these skills in the context of printed material and in closed classroom groups we're not providing them with the competence they need for the future.

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