Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For and against computers in schools - Kelvin Smythe inspires an important debate.


I was motivated to read the information on the school website and to view all the class blogs to see for myself.  I have   also had the occasion to drive past the school the past year and have often thought what a wonderful environment Tairua is for the children to explore – with or without the use
of technology.

It would seem to me that technology is being seen by most/many schools as the ‘silver bullet’ essential to ensuring success for students in the future –  so called ‘future proofing’ .

There are a number of phrases I  agree with in the Stuff article about the school but I don’t see technology as ‘centre stage’. It is, if used properly, a powerful tool for students to deepen their learning; conversely it is all too easy for the use of such technology for shallow learning. I don’t think students being ‘plugged in’ any guarantee of real learning. Students these days are 'plugged i almost all their waking time; the virtual world is taking over from the real.

The success with using technology is the interpretation of Tairua’s phrase - a ‘genuine process of discovery’. I wasn’t able, looking through the class blogs to ascertain this. I would need to visit and read /view what the students have produced.

When I visit classrooms I like to read some of the inquiry learning research on show. Ideally the classroom walls (and individual student work) should replicate the in depth thinking seen in the best of Science Fair exhibits. In such research the challenge, or research questions should be on display, the process of inquiry  obvious and the findings made clear and often   include further things to explore from unanswered questions arising throughout the study - all knowledge is tentative. And for all this learning to be assisted by the use of technology.

I am usually disappointed. Cutting and pasting – learning via Google is more often the case. 

Student research, if it is genuine, ought to feature markers such as ‘I used to think’,’ I now think’,’ I am still confused about this’ to indicate the changing of students’ minds as they ‘construct’ their own knowledge.  And ideally students need to be able to defend their conclusions and teachers need to challenge students to do so. This is beyond ‘facilitation’.

I have no idea if this is the case at Tairua.

As for the comment that Tairua has  removed   art from classroom environments because it 'distracts ' students I have mixed feelings.

 An attractive room environment featuring current research/inquiry studies and students ideas expressed through art and language is vital. Some call the room environment the ‘fourth teacher’ (after the teacher, the material to be learnt, and the ideas of other within the classroom and online).

A teacher’s classroom is an important ‘message system’. If it is full of teacher distractions, posters etc   it is the teacher’s class. If it is full of well displayed inquiry, language and art work , all featuring the students identity and ‘voice’, then such an environment is not a distraction, it is a celebration of student thinking

I have to agree with Kelvin that the ‘heart, vivacity and substance of curriculum areas’ are all too often missing in classrooms replaced by an emphasis on technology.

It does seem to me that some teachers are captured by technology and, if this is the case, such technology is itself a distraction from real learning.

A futurist has stated in a world when students are connected almost every minute of their waking hours that now the ‘offline is the new luxury’ and that humanistic schools should cultivate the offline – the real world almost as an antidote to be ‘plugged in’ all the time.

Any new technology has both positive and negative consequences - the most obvious example atomic power. Even the humble book, as a result of the printing press,  allowed ideas to spread but  caused   the loss of oral language and story telling. As Sophocles wrote, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse’.

What does it mean to be human in an increasingly digital world?  What might be lost?

Einstein has written, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’ and it is imagination that is at stake our education system today. We must be careful not to throw out creativity with our obsession with technology. We need to protect at all costs a humanistic education – the holistic Kelvin believes so strongly in.

We must be suspicious of people who look to technology as the solution to everything.

We must fight against the standardised teaching that computer power is introducing into our schools. 

We must be careful not to be captured by those selling ‘Silicon Valley snake oil’. Technology is a tool, a powerful one, and one all the more dangerous if used unquestionably.

Elwyn Richardson
When I had the occasion to drive past Tairua School I thought what a rich environment to create a 21st C learning environment it would be.  An environment with its genesis in the kind ofcreative work that Elwyn Richardson put into practice in his small rural schoolin the 1950s but with the added advantage of the sensible use of modern technology.

This holistic learning has all but been lost - not helped by the introduction of National Standards, the continuing use of demeaning ability grouping and formulaic  'nest practices'. This emphasis on standarisation is not providing the necessary personalisation required to 'future proof' students.

A school ought to be community of scientists and artists, as in Elwyn's school, with students exploring their immediate world and the wider world students’ now have access to.

What does it mean to be human in a digital world? Maybe ‘offline is now the new luxury’?

 Maybe this is the really important question. 

The comments to Kelvin's critique about the use of computers show this is an issue worth debating.


G-sus said...

Excellent article.

As a teacher my class is tech free, but we have moved on from the endless debate about tech as a learning tool - good and bad reports depending on who pays for the study - to taking a social justice / environmental stance. From coltan mining, child labour, sweatshops, suicide nets, billions of tonnes of toxic waste .... tech is first-world bling and killing us all. This generation will not be slaves to gadgets with thumb deformities, but saving our planet.


Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Geoff.

I don't want to suggest classrooms ought to be tech free but that, if present, they should be seen as a powerful learning tool. I also believe great teaching can occur in a tech free environment. As the futurist I quoted said , ;offline may now be the new luxury'.

Too many students know little about the history/ natural history and the real problems relating to the real world they live in. It was Kelvin Smythe'e point that enough attention is being placed on curriculum areas.