Laptops and Exponential Change and “let’s just get back to basics”. Or “I can drive perfectly well by looking in the rear-view mirror!”

The manager and leader differ in the way they use technology. The manager is primarily concerned with using technology to improve the current outcomes. The leader, on the other hand, is interested in proceeding to new destinations and in examining the role technology may play in reaching the destination.”

“Ideas for the new Millennium” by Peter Ellyard

 

Someone observed that it was strange how, in the Star Wars series, the weapons and gadgetry that were being used when Anekin was young, were more sophisticated that when he was older and had become Darth Vader. A rare case of technology becoming less advanced as time passes.

Apart from that anomaly, technology is going to change at incredible pace. And with it, the way we do things. What’s science fiction one minute, is possible the next – and mundane, thirty seconds after that. We all know this.

And of course, I’m with you. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the latest jargon that we lose track of what it’s all for. The basics of education, after all, don’t change. It’s all about students learning. AusVELS is just another concept that’s kept some bureaucrats in a job. You wait, in a few years, we’ll have something different. I don’t want to ever hear about “maximising potential” – can potential really be maximised? As for “World’s best practice”…

Which brings me to the laptops. Well, where do I start? I’m not anti-change – I thought it was great when we stopped using pen and ink in schools and started using biros. (The Luddites were given such a bad press. They weren’t a mob of ignorant, anti-progress loonies. They were skilled craftsmen who were upset that mass production was putting them out of a job.)

The fundamental question is surely:  What does a student need to learn?

And we have the answer.

It’s just like doing the shopping. You make a list and fill your shopping bag with the things on your list. With education, you take a student and you fill him or her with Maths, English, Humanities, Arts and Technology and then they’ve got a bit of all the areas they’ll need to know about for the rest of their lives.

So, notwithstanding the fact that some things are basic and won’t change that much whatever happens, how much of this new world is just a passing phase, a new jargon, the latest craze. Well, I think we can agree that computers are here to stay. Until they’re superseded. But the difference is that whereas once, schools saw part of their function to teach about this new-fangled idea of computers, now our students – certainly by secondary school, and often much younger – bring a knowledge to the classroom that frequently exceeds that of the teacher. One of the questions is: How can we best utilise that knowledge?

We need to stop thinking of computers as ends in themselves, and start thinking of them in the same we now think of videos. (No, not something to use to keep the kids quiet while we catch up on our correction.) If there is a video or TV show that will help to teach a concept or skill, then we use it. We don’t feel it necessary to ensure that kids are shown at least three videos a week, in order to develop their video watching skills. As David Nettlebeck says in Computers, Thinking and Learning, “The old computing was about was computers can do; the new computing is about what users can do.”

As teachers, we can react like the Luddites. Let’s not forget that the Luddites were skilled and intelligent. We can see them as something that threatens to put us out of a job. Not that a computer could ever totally replace a teacher, but when a leader like Jeff Kennett, started putting money into ICT, we were naturally suspicious. Some people imagined computer labs with hundreds of students and two or three teachers to supervise. However, I believe the reason for the push toward computers has to do with changes in the society. – the same changes that are driving many of the changes in education.

As I went through the school system, people “dropped out” of education and got jobs. A certificate called “Leaving” was awarded at the end of a successful Fifth Form (Year 11). The elite few continued on to Matriculation or H.S.C., and fewer still went on to university. Once a person left school, they were unlikely to take on further education. They would go into a job where they were expected to be docile, obedient and compliant. Schools were excellent training grounds – students were taught to behave themselves and to do what they were told. There were apprenticeships for many areas – the concept being: “We’ll hire you, and train you to do what we need.”

Now, I am aware that we haven’t changed that much. We still desire unquestioning obedience, and docile students. However, the needs for our workforce are different. Yes, the fast food store and the factory floor may still prefer a 1950s style attitude, but that sort of unskilled labour is disappearing. And even there, a basic knowledge of ICT skills is necessary.

We need a workforce capable of undertaking further training, and developing new skills. People capable of anticipating changing circumstances and preparing for jobs that are still to come into existence. In the past it didn’t matter if their early educational experiences put students off learning forever. They’d had their education. Peter Ellyard in “Ideas for the New Millennium” talks about the twenty-first century being a time of continual workplace change. He argues that there is a need to develop a new pedagogy that will enable people to adapt to these shifts.

“If learning is to be maximised a new model and pedagogy of learning – a new learning culture – is needed. This learning culture should contain eight elements:

• Life Long Learning

• Learner-driven learning

• Just-in-time learning

• Customised learning

• Transformative learning

• Collaborative learning

• Learning to learn. ‘

Ellyard goes on to define the need for “enterprising individuals” with the following skills:

“One such list has been compiled by David Turner, and includes:

o Assessing strengths and weaknesses;

o Making decisions;

o Working cooperatively in teams and groups;

o Planning time and energy;

o Carrying out agreed responsibilities;

o Negotiating;

o Dealing with power and authority;

o Solving problems;

o Resolving conflict; キ Coping with stress and tension;

o Evaluating performance

o Communicating verbally and non-verbally”

The idea of students setting their learning goals may not seem that much different from concepts of self-assessment. But while self-assessment, was often a reflective, navel-gazing exercise, the thrust behind VELS is to develop students’ capacity for a number of the elements in Peter Ellyard’s list. For example, setting goals encourages Learner-driven Learning. In the past, schools have relied heavily on summative assessment, and attempts to move away from it have been met with resistance. However, the important thing is to ensure that assessment is linked to learning. (“Assessment should improve performance, not just audit it.” Wiggins)

I was about to start this paragraph with the phrase, “As students complete their education, whether secondary or tertiary…” I realised the word “complete’ was a redundancy, a hangover from the way education has been viewed in the past. I must watch my language!

As students join the workforce, they must be confident with technology, and positive about future learning experiences. They must be capable of looking ahead, of defining where they need to up-date their skills, of anticipating new opportunities. Many will not be “hired and trained”; they need to develop the skills in order to be hired. Others will be creating the jobs of the future.

Of course, not all students will enter the workforce as the “enterprising individuals” that Ellyard talks of creating, any more than every student developed a love of literature or high-level logical thinking. But the change is in intention is clear: As teachers we must move more towards encouraging students to take responsibility for their education, and move away from ranking, labelling and defining students.

 

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