Loss of control

I'm attending the International Network Conference (INC 2010) conference in Heidelberg today, so this is an opportune time to talk about its most famous son - Johannes Gutenberg.

When I first started teaching I thought my role was to transmit knowledge. I was caught up in the cycle of teaching-learning experiences I remembered from my own formative years. I was essentially perpetuating the kind of teaching style I had myself been exposed to. We teach as were were taught. It took me some time to realise that a) I could also learn from my students, b) that I wasn't the font of all knowledge and c) that there were other, more effective techniques available than simply lecturing. I developed a number of interactive and participatory resources where the students were given the control over the process, and I was forced to stand back and facilitate. It was uncomfortable for me to stand back and not intervene, to try to take control. But I had to do it, and in adopting this new style, I believe I became a more effective teacher.

Sitting here now, in the heartland of Germany, in the place where a literary revolution once took place, I am reflecting now on how teachers still try to maintain control in the classroom. Here are some of my thoughts on the notion of teacher control:

Once upon a time, the lead pencil was an expensive and rare tool. Not many people used it, because not many people had the skill to do so. Pencils were kept chained up in libraries where there was restricted access. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg turned over the apple cart. What had been the preserve of the priviledged few - the nobility and clergy - was suddenly thrown open to the masses. The emergence of universal, mass produced and accessible text instigated a movement for mass literacy, and a communcation revolution ensued. The priviledged few lost control over literacy, and the world of learning had been blown wide open. Knowledge grew rapidly and as it did, so people began to learn how to question the status quo, and social movements gained momentum. The printing press was a disruptive technology - it changed forever our way of life.

Why do we still use ICT suites in schools? Do we have pencil suites? No - we used to have chained pencils before the advent of the Gutenberg press, but when everyone started to learning to read and write, chained pencils were massed produce, came down in price, and were accessible to everyone. The chained pencil was no more. People carried pencils around in their pockets. The same is now happening to computers - the personal computer is now handheld or laptop based, and they are being carried around by students wherever they go. There is a new literacy revolution going on. Students are using portable, wifi connected devices in the classroom (whether they are allowed to or not) and connecting in new ways that are alien to their teachers. Teachers are losing control of the small preserve they thought was safe. They hang on to the ICT suite because it is safe. They feel they can maintain control if all the technology is in one place, and is able to be booked for special sessions. Only thing is, ICT and computers are not special, anymore than the pencil is special. Both are merely tools that can be used to promote and support learning, and both must be freed up so that students can use them wherever and whenever they are.
The ICT suite locates computers and ICT in a setting that is restrictive and constrains creativity. It shows students that they have to go to a particular place and space to 'do computing'. It also constrains some teachers, who might spontaneously wish to bring a computer mediated activity to their session, and can't do so, because they need to 'book the ICT suite' in advance. I could go on, but I won't. I will simply say this: Teachers are losing control now just as the nobility and clergy did in Gutenberg's time. They just don't know it yet.
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Loss of control by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.


Anonymous said…
Another brilliant blog entry on the real problems of teachng and learning with e's.... loss of control.. seems to be one of the most fundamental problems in new teaching and learning ... nice summary of our "Backside Garden" LOL conversation which I really enjoyed!
Anonymous said…
Another brilliant blog entry on the real problems of teachng and learning with e's.... loss of control.. seems to be one of the most fundamental problems in new teaching and learning ... nice summary of our "Backside Garden" LOL conversation which I really enjoyed!

A great post and it reminds me of a lot of what Seth Godin talks about in his latest book, Linchpin. Also, there is a great ebook download that talks about the Gutenberg press - http://jer979.com/dandelionmarketing/.

I do wish that the mindset would move away from chalk and talk (couldn't think of anything to rhyme with whiteboard ....). Once we see the iPad and the Android derivatives start to take hold, then there really will be a revolution on our hands. Power to the pupils - in good old Citizen Smith styly..

Nick Sharratt said…
I agree with the conclusion and message, but not sure about using the pencil as part of the analogy. The pencil is about creating where as you argue it was superseded by the printing press which is about consuming info.

If you stick with pencils then supoose there is a conection with ICT but in reverse - surely. Pencil/creation => books/consummation. Early ICT/consumption => mobile ubiquitous social tech/creation. ?
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Sigi and Julian. It is, to me anyway, a perceptual issue. But the problem also has its antecedents in the individual teacher's own formative years, and this colours their perceptions of how teaching should be conducted. Thanks also for your comment Nick, and I take your point. However, I don't see any real distinction anymore (although there is one) between creation and consumption of content. Students today are doing both interchangably, and also learning from both. My remarks were really about the paradigm shift that took place in literacy. Whether it is mass consumption or mass creation, the computer and the Web are still merely tools to achieve these aims.
Doug Woods said…

It's very refreshing to read this post and not only because it appears to echo my own post on ICT Suites a few months ago, http://bit.ly/bqpcpy

I do believe that the idea of ICT suites is beginning to lose favour in schools but it is a slow process and there may be many people whose livelihoods are still centred upon their use or creation.

However, the demise of BSF from a school perspective may lead to a rethinking of future ICT provision and a move away from ICT 'rooms' and toward the use of more personal technologies.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Doug - I think you're right. School ICT suites might diminish in importance not only due to pedagogical considerations, but also due to a shift in provision of resources to schools due to economic stringency. We shall see...
mvallance1234 said…
But we must recognise that many students still remain uncomfortable with the paradigm shift as they become more empowered due to access to information via technologies combined with having a teacher who engages students to make good use of their independence. Some students yearn for the 'good old days' (?) of sitting at a desk and being fed the limited information they need just to get by ... and get that certificate. The roles of teacher - student - technology are often neglected in the academic literature (not yours Steve!) and I believe these need to be addressed when considering just how disruptive a new technology (such as the iPad) will become.
Dave said…
Another great post on two fronts, one as I am a student teacher so this insight is welcome. Two I am a school governor who has just been involved in scrapping the school IT suite and making laptops available to all children in the classrooms, connect on a wifi network. Technology is moving fast and we need to keep up with it not fight to restrain it.
Moturoa said…
We have always had pods of laptops for classroom use so I don't really know any better but I would hate to think that we just couldn't pick up a laptop to find out, to refer to, to create with.

In my happy place, I would have some laptops residing permanently in my class and some on call for when the whole class needs to practice a new tool straight away before they forget.

I only teach eight year olds and they need that hands on time smartly to embed a new piece of learning- they don't like to watch- they like to do.

Of course I would like 1-1 even better but in my happy place I am still a realist- there just aren't enough dollars to go around.

I am happy though because we are on ultra-fast broadband so things can surely hum when things get moving.

Allanah King
Dear Woods,

it seems that your post on ICT is not available any more. I am really interested in reading it. Would it be possible to send it to my email address: sorrann944@yahoo.com

I appreciate it.

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