The worst thing about educational technology is educational technology
Wednesday 30 March 2011
by Nik Peachey
This must seem like a contradictory title and an odd one especially coming from me, as I am an educational technology consultant and writer, but to be honest I stand by this statement and I’d like to tell you why.
Over the last ten plus years ‘consumer technology’, and by that I mean the everyday gadgets that we use for entertainment and communication in our homes, have become increasingly cheaper and at the same time progressively more powerful and easy to use. Personally, I believe this a really wonderful development and one that is really changing the way we socialise, communicate, access information, interact as a society and most importantly – learn.
If we contrast this with ‘educational technology’ and by this I mean technology that is designed to be used in schools and universities, we can see that almost the opposite has happened. Prices seem to go up and up as the hardware becomes increasingly complex and at the same time more difficult to use. I recently saw an interactive whiteboard that can be used both vertically and horizontally, due to the very cleverly designed short throw projector and ingenious swivel stand engineering, so now your IWB is not only able to project onto your wall, but can now become a table too! Um? Useful for? And what does that cost?
Another ingenious invention I recently had the misfortune to encounter was a podium style computerised classroom control with both a normal computer monitor in and a touch sensitive one. The touch sensitive one could be used to control the podium and switch modes to enable a laptop to interact with the board instead of the regular computer. Unfortunately on the one I tried the mouse control only functioned on the touch sensitive screen ( where you didn’t need it) and couldn’t be persuaded to move over to the to normal computer screen where of course you did need it, so the thing was rendered completely useless.
I have to say that I’m not against IWBs per se, there are advantages to being able to control the computer from the front of the screen and if money is no object then I’d rather have one than not have one, as long as it has been set up correctly, but in many of our schools we know that money very often is in short supply, especially when it comes to training or paying teachers, so why is so much money being spent on hardware that is often very quickly left out of date or redundant?
I think there are two answer and the first is marketing. To have this kind of hardware visible and in photographs of classrooms etc can help convey that your school is up to date and students at the school will get very modern training with the best equipment.
Unfortunately this often isn’t the case, because many of the schools that invest heavily in the hardware don’t back this up with an equivalent investment in the all too invisible connectivity. So this is like buying a Ferrari and then trying to run it at high speed with only half a litre of oil in the engine and often with the same result- the whole thing sizes up and grinds to a halt, and this is what often happens in many of our technology supported classrooms.
The second answer is that many managers don’t really have a great understanding of how technology should function to support learning, but they know that they should be doing something about it and so by investing in hardware they feel they have ‘done their bit’ and now they can leave it to the teacher to make it work.
So, what should be happening? Well really it is quite simple. Instead of buying those expensive swiveling interactive whiteboards and magnificent e-podiums, we take the money and invest it instead in really fast easily accessible broadband connectivity and we start encouraging students to bring along their own mobile devices, tablets and laptops to class and get them to use the connectivity. That way students can take responsibility for their own virus protection, install whatever software they want on their computer and work on a device that they are familiar with and which doesn’t have sites blocked on it. We can start to encourage a culture of open and fast technology support within our lessons, and what’s best about this is that it puts the technology into the hands of the students so they can actually start to develop their digital literacies and study skills instead of watching teachers struggle with theirs.
It won’t look as smart in the marketing photos, and it will require some help and training for teachers, but the result will be smarter lessons, smarter teachers and much smarter students.
So what do you think?
- What’s the connectivity like in your school?
- Do students have access to a wireless network in the classroom?
- Are they encouraged to bring along laptops or other devices?
- Is the connection fast and reliable?
- Is there an internet connection?
- What happens if ten or twenty students start to access a video sharing website? Does the connection slow down to a crawl?
If you prefer to leave a video message to some of these questions or see other answers check out this link http://intervue.me/i/233 and click on the questions to record your answer.
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