6 notes on how to build a technology-rich educational system
1. Focus on teachers. Teachers are the primary change agents in the classroom. Empowereing teachers should be the fundemental guideline for any programme of using technology to enhance eduction. The same technology can work both ways: when interactive whiteboards were introduced in the UK they initially created a cinecmatic experience: the teacher had to darken the room and drag students through a pre-determained slideshow or movie. This resulted in an impofrished eductional experience, taking pedagogy back 40 years. Nowdays, teachers hardly use the boads directly: they send students to present their work or solve problems at the board, while they stay back and manage the whole class interaction. Teachers have approprited the tool to their needs, subjecting it to their expertese. This is the kind of process we want to support.
2. Focus on (techno-pedagogic) design. A good teacher does not deliver educational content – she designs an educational experience. There is an ubdundance of high-quility, open and free digital educational content. The critical resource is the knowlege of how to use it. Hewlett foundation invested vast sums in the UK open university’s openlearn project, pushing large portions of their excelant currucular resources to the web, using an open and robust platform that allows free use and even customisation and re-mixing of resoureces. Now Hewlett are funding research into why these rich resources are not being used.
Teachers (and educational leaders in general) need to be shifted from the position of consumers to that of designers. A consummer chooses among available immutable goods and makes do. A designer analyses a problem, in its context, and devises a solution. She then implements this solution using available resources. Teachers need learning design and development tools such as LDSE and LAMS, but they also need help in changing their mindset.
3. Open standards, open protocols, open market + guidance, quality contron and monitoring. There are many ways to learn and many ways to teach. Any centralist solution will be good for some and less so for others. Centralised design and implementation choices disempower school leadership and desolve their responsibility. School leaders need to be able to make their own technological choices, but the system needs to ensure that these choices are sound and that the local overhead is minimised. They way to achieve this is to define a set of techno-pedagogical standards for educational technology – from the generic level of operating systems and office suites to the particular tools used to teach specific subjects to specific age groups. Such standards should define the functions and qualities of the technology and their interfaces with other systems (e.g. handles for assessment), but should not dicatate any specific technology. These standards should be supported by a central regisration and management extranet. This system would work like the way Cisco manages its ecosystem: it would provide suppliers with clear specifications of the expected standards, allow them to register and certify their services and products, and offer these to school leaders. These, on their side, will have to document their choices and evaluate them.
4. Same stuff, new ways. Some topics don’t change, but the way we teach them should. Dr. Yifat Kolikant from the Hebrew university is using internet-based dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian students to teach history in a deep and provokative way. By confronting students with conflicting perspectives, they are driven to engage with and strive to understand their own national narrative. The WebLabs project used computer programming and on-line collaboration to drive to develop their a mathematical language and explore complex issues in science and mathematics. Technology enables teachers and students to make the curriculum their own, individually and collectivly, it allows them to draw on a multitude of resources and connect their educational experieces to their real life. The only advantage a computer has over a textbook is its ability to connect people and build networks of knowledge.
5. New stuff, new ways. Our children live in a world which is radically different than the one we grew up in. The skills they need to develop did not exist when we went to school. A common mistake is to interpret this statement in a technical, or rather – technophobic – manner. Children need no more help in learning to use powerpoint than they need in operating their cell-phone. They do need help in understanding what it is they want to tell the world, how to formulate this message, and how to reach their audience. Powerpoint may be a tool they use for this purpose, as may be FaceBook or YouTube. Using any tool is easy, but choosing the right one is hard. Our children have more opportunities and confront new dangers. We need to help them leverage the former and manage the latter.
6. Coding, a basic skill. Computer programming is wrongly perceived as an elite technical skill. In fact, good programmers specialise in one thing: solving problems. They analyse problems, creating abstract models of complex situations, and use whatever hardware, software and social conventions they can get their hands on to devise solutions. Programming is an art that combines analytic reasoning with creative innovation. We do not expect every student to become a master artist or noverlis or a professional sportsperson, yet we teach art, literature and sports from an early age. We see these subjects as essencial to children’s well-being and happiness. They provide them a rich perspective on the world and cognitive tools for dealing with the issues they encounter. Mathematical thinking, and its practical embodiment in computer programming, should be seen in a similar light. Computer programming is a tool, and it should be integrated as such across the curriculum.