Thursday, January 24, 2013

Breaking up is hard to do

We often base our calls for a better use of technology in education on the grounds that students are demanding change. Since they are mostly experienced users of computers, mobiles, social media and gaming they will naturally want to use these technologies and tools in school or university. There is of course a degree of truth here but it's not unusual to see reports of students demanding more lectures and classroom teaching rather than online delivery as well as preferring textboooks to net-based resources. Sometimes the students are more traditional and conservative than the teachers, despite their dependence on technology outside education.

This paradox is described by June Breivik (@junebre on Twitter) in a blog post in Norwegian, Er vi skoleblinde? Hvorfor vil digitalt innfødte ha bøker i skolen?  (Are we school-blind? Why do digital natives want textbooks in school?). Use Google translate to get an English version. June sees the problem as one of deep-rooted tradition where society's view of education is based on a number of non-negotiable concepts. We define education and especially school as follows (slightly paraphrased from original article):
  • Learning is hard work
  • Learning is not fun and games
  • Learning takes place in a school between 08.00 - 16.00 on weekdays
  • Homework helps learning
  • The teacher is the most important factor for learning
  • Learning can be planned and structured
  • Textbooks and subjects
  • Classrooms in schools
  • The teacher has the knowledge
  • Theory and practice don't mix
  • Examination is evidence that learning has taken place
These "rules" are so deeply ingrained even in the minds of pupils/students that anything that challenges them is viewed with great skepticism. All the metaphors for learning are rooted in this model: classroom, desk, blackboard, lectern etc. This explains why the most successful applications of technology in education have been where it simply offers a digital equivalent of the above; for example the popularity of recorded lectures and learning management systems. More challenging uses of technology such as virtual worlds, gaming and peer learning are seldom accepted other than in temporary projects and research initiatives and are often met by calls to get back to basics.

We have the opportunity to radically change our approach to education and learning but somehow we can't escape the gravitational pull of the classroom. Junes conclusion is that maybe we need to accept that changing such ingrained traditional will take longer than some of us would like. We maybe need to give the process time but not be afraid to experiment and dare to be innovative. At the same time we need to create a culture of innovation and the insight that some experiments will work and some won't. But we learn by failing and being allowed to fail. Learn and build.

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