Saturday, November 13, 2004

Computers- over sold and under used as yet?

Computers are the most amazing tool introduced into schools ever - or perhaps since the book!

The written word gained its primacy over the control of knowledge with the invention of the printing press. Being able to print multiple copies meant those on power at the time ( the Catholic Church) could no longer keep control of the information people were allowed to read. Printing spread like wildfire and in the process changed the way we think. No longer relying on gossip, tales and song it became a more linear world. And, in the process, it changed the way we think. As sixties 'guru' Marshall Mc Luhan wrote, 'the medium becomes the message'. Actually I think he said the 'medium becomes the massage' but it means the same thing? In the process manuscript writers ( those who copy)slowly but inevitably went out of business!

Computers take us a lot further. Now information is available anywhere, anytime, by anybody with an internet connection. Our students ( even if we are not) are completely at home in this new multi dimensional media but the power of the linear book still lives on, dominating traditional school structures - particularly our secondary schools; the Twentieth Century equivalent of the monastery. Like the ancient scribes, traditional teachers, transmitting their 'just in case curriculums' will also go out of business! But not just yet it seems.

What is needed is the transformation of our schools into learning communities where students are able to research , with new learning mentors, what they need to learn. The Twenty-first Century curriculum will be a 'just in time one'. A curriculum more based on 'how to learn' rather than what to learn ; and what is to be learnt will be driven by student's passions , talents and practical requirements. This will happen when the true power of the computer is realized and it is entirely possible that this learning revolution will completely bi- pass the traditional schools.

In the meantime schools are spending money acquiring computers and trying to fit them into current thinking and structures like some procrustean bed. No doubt this also happened when the printed books first made their appearance? Information technology is currently being paraded as the answer but no one really wants to change schools as yet. Millions of dollars are spent on them and all too often they sit unused in classrooms or locked up in computer labs. Research shows that it is hard to see what effect it is having on student's learning but why would it, a bit like the scribes complaining that handwriting standards are getting worse! We need new measures as well as new mind-sets.

Trevor Mallard , our pragmatic Minister of Education, seems to place great faith on computers but until school structures are transformed they will remain over sold and under-used.

My guess is that future young people will look at the remains of secondary schools and ask their parents what went on in there? The young people will be amazed as they sit in their cars communicating with the world without a teacher in site.

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