Lessons to be learnt

I was asked a very thoughtful question by one of my first year education students earlier today. The group had been tasked to consider strategies about how they might embed a new technology into their primary school lessons. This is not a simple task, because schools are notoriously conservative organisations, and new ideas are not always welcomed with open arms. The question from the student was 'what can we learn from the introduction of previous technologies in history?'

The poet Steve Turner once wrote 'History repeats itself. It has to, because no-one ever listens.' Yet there are some great lessons to be learnt from history if we know where to look.

I immediately thought of failed technologies, and in particular, the Sinclair C5 electric car (actually a tricycle). In a 2013 poll it was voted the worst innovation disaster in modern history. The C5 was an invention that was very much ahead of its time. It was so futuristic that no-one was really prepared for it, not many could see an immediate need, and very few were prepared to invest their cash in purchasing one. But that wasn't the only reason the Sinclair C5 failed to capture the public imagination.  It was a great idea, but it was not fully conceived. It was difficult to drive, had a top speed of only 15 miles per hour, and required more battery power than it was capable of delivering. It was low on the ground and flimsy, and there were fears that its low visibility might result in a number of fatal accidents. Yet the most important factor that contributed to its failure was neither technological nor conceptual. On the day the C5 was launched to the press and media there was a cold spell, and there was snow on the ground (as can be seen in a quick Google image search). The open cockpit of the electric car was not conducive to comfort at the best of times. On a cold, icy day, it was a disaster. Bad press reports from the launch were the final nails in the coffin for the C5, and ultimately its production was halted.

From this sad tale, we can glean several principles that might aid us when we try to embed new technologies or ideas into conservative environments.

1) Relevance: Make sure the technology is relevant to the needs of your community
2) Design: Ensure that technology is easy to understand and use
3) Model: Provide a conducive environment within which to showcase the new technology
4) Protect: Closely manage anything that has the potential to go wrong

Photo by Alan Gold on Flickr

Creative Commons License
Lessons to be learnt by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Ian Nairn said…
Really liked reading your posting. I am often told by teachers in schools that any changes have to made a difference and make and impact / help engage students in their learning. When I ask what this means to them they say it should save the teachers time, make the task easier to do, save the school money as well as helping engage and motivate the students to want to learn and develop their skills.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Ian, interesting comments. The first two are teacher centric and the third is focused on the school. Only the final comment is student centric, which is where it should start. We need to see a shift away from teacher led technology adoption to student led technology use - we are in this for the long haul.

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