Sunday, November 14, 2004

Realizing the power of the computer

I have a friend, a retired teacher, who has recently transformed his way of presenting ideas and information with his Apple Mac and Adobe photo-shop. Now 77, he was always up with the play with technology, being a photographer in the days when you developed your own prints. The other day he said he wished he had the use of computer media technology when he was a teacher and he asked me how teachers were using them. I fear he would be disappointed? His classroom was based on developing the talents and powers of creative expression of all his students.

Another friend, also another excellent retired teacher , was one of the first to introduce computers into his classroom . He integrated it into his classroom without a hitch because he already had a philosophy based on personalized learning and small group work; the computer was in use all day.

Today parents almost require schools to have computer technology but I wonder if they bother to inquire how they are being used, and for how long they stand not being used. My own experience would indicate they would also be disappointed.

This would be in contrast with the 'hype' coming from the Ministry where one gets the impression that they are being widely used as the pinnacle of Twenty-first Century thinking, and a vital part of every teachers repertoire. Certainly a computer or two sit in every room but to what effect?

At the various technology conferences a lot is talked about how technology needs to used in association with changes in pedagogy; the pedagogy my friends had in place years ago. There is no doubt that information technology can be interwoven throughout the curriculum but this requires both teacher time and training - both in short supply.

Sometimes the only people who seem to be benefiting are those who supply the computers; in the classrooms the benefits are more potential than realized. So far little has changed in school organization, or structure, to accommodate the new technology or pedagogy - particularly at the secondary school level. At this level, the metaphor of the Nineteenth century, the 'factory', remains intact.

Computers will not realize their full power until teachers gain a critical understanding of pedagogy and see how schools fall short of proving a Twenty-first Century learning environment. Ironically, the power of technology is being considered to control schools through imposed management systems, rather than to free teacher and student creativity.

Teachers need to see the dilemma they are in and take control of the curriculum, and the Ministry needs to appreciate the power of diversity and creativity, as messy as it might seem to their tidy minds. We need true decentralization, within agreed values, to really unlock the power of the new technology. This requires the Ministry to focus on creating the necessary conditions to release creativity, and then provide the training to develop every schools and teachers capability. Most of all it requires the Ministry to trust teachers and parents do what is best for their own communities.

If this is done then the real goals of education will be realized - the development of the talents of all future citizens so they can contribute to the creation of fair and informed communities.

Imagine schools really making the full use of the creative power of computers. Such schools would assist their students develop the future literacies required to enter a new and unpredicable world. At present we are only tentatively exploring the edge of possibility.

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