Stuck in the past?
Technology (in the form of mobile telephones) has changed the way we communicate with each other, and social networking services such as Facebook have made similar advances in the way we relate to our friends and family. Broadcast media are ubiquitous, with television in every living room, on our hand held devices, even on large screens in the public areas of major cities around the world. Our leisure, economy and social lives have been transformed by the impact of the World Wide Web, and arguably, we are a lot better of because of it. In fact advances in interactive, personalised technologies are so prominent that hardly a day goes by without some new innovation being trumpeted by the media. So why has technology wrought so few changes in the school classroom? Why was Toffler's prediction so far off the mark, when many of his other, contemporary predictions were clearly realised?
One reason there has been little change in schools is that many continue to operate on a factory production system that belongs in last century's industrial age, and new technology is not permitted to disrupt it. Schools continue to jealously protect a conservatism that resides in few similarly large-scale institutions. Even when new technologies are introduced into classrooms, they are often used in a similar manner to the older technologies they replace. Disruption of old practices is unwelcome in school. A classic example of this is the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). Over the last few years IWBs have been installed into many classrooms in the UK with little impact. Teachers continued to use IWBs as though they were standard dry-wipe or chalk boards - as presentational tools or slide projection screens.
The pedagogical opportunities the new tools afforded (such as interactive touch surfaces on which children could experiment, create and manipulate images and text) were largely ignored because a) teachers were concerned about damage or b) disruption or c) lack of knowledge and fear of exposure to new ideas. Often the failure to adopt new practices arising from new technology provision can be blamed on a lack of good leadership. Sometimes it can be the result of lack of knowledge, but more often than not, teachers fail to develop new pedagogies due to a lack of time or resources to be able to do so. This is where good leadership intervention could benefit the entire school. One of the greatest barriers to innovative practice in schools arises from the ban many place on the use of mobile phones in their classrooms. Place this in the context of local education authorities concertedly blocking social media services due to 'safety' concerns, and there is little wonder that schools struggle to capitalise on the technological benefits being enjoyed by the rest of society. It is an abysmal situation.
And yet there are pockets of inspiration and innovation in the schools sectors. What kind of new pedagogies are emerging as a result of technology provision in classrooms? Firstly, we are seeing children being encouraged to improve their writing and reading through the use of social media such as blogs and wikis. They are being encouraged to communicate more effectively through podcasts, videos and on social networking sites. A great deal of creativity is being unleashed through the use of image sharing sites, touch screen tools and new dimensions to learning are being realised through game playing. Mobile learning takes the experience of discovery outside the classroom into the community the children will eventually work within. IWBs, when used effectively can enhance and enrich the entire learning encounter, with students as actively involved in knowledge production as their teachers. None of this has been achieved without some self-sacrifice by educators, some visionary leadership, and a large amount of disruption. If these three elements are present, innovative pedagogical practices will begin to spread, and we will see a realisation of Toffler's prediction. If not, we will be stuck with the mass production pedagogy of the past.
Toffler, A. (1970) Future Shock. London: Pan Books.
Image by David Wright
Stuck in the past? by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.