Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Educational technology - just a beginning!

A big conference, held by the American School Boards Association October 04, confirms my own view that the best is yet to come with regards to innovative use of technology and that this will only happen when educators embrace a new learning paradigm.

I visit schools now and then where I can see this paradigm in action but they are far and few between. The message from the conference was that simply bringing technology into schools could never be enough, 'making education relevant to his or her world was the bottom line, and for the most tech -savvy generation in history, this would only be possible by stressing learning outcomes that require the use of technology.'

American research shows that students typically spend the bulk of their lives immersed in technology but in high school their high tech exposure drops to 15 minutes. Students, the report says, are showing up in our schools and wonder how relevant they are to their world.

Everybody seems to be huge advocates for the transformational powers of technology but it has to be more than modernizing instruction. Integrating technology itself is felt to be a limiting term as it assumes the current way of doing things is right. New ways are needed - or we need to go back to experience based learning of John Dewey and other progressive thinkers.

Speakers at the conference ( including Ian Jukes a recent speaker in NZ) pleaded with educators to re -evaluate the role of technology in schools and to place the focus on individual student learning, and that the very nature of education must change. Too much emphasis, it was felt by one speakers, is placed on literacy and mathematics while the sciences, humanities and arts were lacking. Art needs to be seen as important because it is the source of much needed creativity. Schools are currently inhibiting student's capacity for original thinking and technology must be used to explore each students range of talents. Technology cannot be seen as an add on . It is , one speaker emphasized, 'a means by which the future will be created.'

Ian Jukes faulted school leaders for failing to understand the bigger picture and technology was still on the periphery and is not transforming education even though the rest of he world has changed. We must, he says, 'focus on achieving outcomes that can't be achieved without the use of present day technology'.

Members were challenged to understand that, even with the most advanced technology, the important thing is to engage students and that this requires a re-think of the provision of learning experiences away from the idea of separate subjects. The challenge is also to inspire the genius in all learners; to encourage student voices and stop doing the things that we did fifty years ago; to stop doing the things that impede learning. Strong words.

I couldn't agree more. Why can't schools learn? I know there are teachers out there who want to. How can they be encouraged? Perhaps we need brand new schools with brand new thinking. Whose responsibility is this? Whatever, school principals ought to be leaders. Or is this too much like asking the fossils to dance - I hope not!

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