Thursday, July 29, 2010

ICT for Schools: What you buy is what you think

When I have a difficult subject to discuss, I sometimes like to start off with a graph to visualise my ideas and the complexity of the subject. The first draft of this one was hand-made. I did it during a discussion I had with teachers about choices of ICT equipment, systems and applications. I argued that you need to have a sound framework for ICT decision-making in education.

Any choice that you can make has multiple reasons and consequences. Decision about ICT in education are always – consciously or unconsciously – based on a theory about and a vision on learning and teaching, media and society. Most of the time people are not conscious about their own theories that are guiding their choices and they rarely have a realistic idea of what effects of their decisions will have on learning, teaching and school organisation for instance.

If you are in favor of a computer lab you have a different view on learning organisation and learning processes than if you prefer distributed equipment. The same is true if you expect a wireless laptop cart to be the best solution for using ICT with your students. If you think you need specialised educational software you probably also have a different view on learning, literacy, instruction and teaching than if you prefer production-oriented software with no predefined content. In case you have a limited budget for equipment, the decision to spend it on interactive whiteboards says something about your teaching concept. It probably differs from the concept someone has, who would prefer to spend the same amount on computers with free software, cameras, camcorders, digital microscopes or robotics sets first. The second fosters simultaneous and autonomous hands on activity by many, the first promotes centralized lecture style activity of one at a time.

Most decision makers have hardly an overview on the short term and long term effects of the decisions they make. Some effects are purely financial or technical. Of course they ought to be considered even if for the moment your budget is big enough.

Some effects are organisational. A computer lab for instance is fine, if you don’t use computers on a daily bases. If the classes who use it are few and if you are near to the lab, you can use it whenever it’s free. If every teacher wants his time share for using the lab and if there are many teachers and classes, they will have access once a week or once every two weeks. If at the assigned time a technical or organisational problem comes up, you will have to come back two weeks later – unfortunately that’s when you had planned your field trip. The same logic applies to mobile systems like laptop carts.

The most important however are the effects on teaching and learning. Do the invest in ICT serve old ideas with new means or are your invests a stepping stone to new educational practices? And, what else is needed to implement new educational practices?

As an educational ICT consultant I have experienced that teachers' views are often guided by considerations of high availability (for themselves and for today), handling, short term productivity, control, fast familiarisation, and technical modernism.

Schoolboards and politicians are focused on costs and social equity, but sometimes, if the salesman has good convincing skills, their hunger for modernism overwhelms their decisions, with the consequence that costly hype equipment is bought without any noticeable effect on education.

Technicians mostly concentrate on reliability, efficiency, maintenance and standardisation, but are also driven by ideology and by the option to take control over the technology and the users.

Architects are generally concerned about budget limits – if equipment is part of the project package – about design issues of cabling and computer furniture.

In the end what is lacking is a sound framework connecting teaching, learning, equipment and software to guide people to choose from all the options that are available.

Which is the dominant learning and teaching style in our school today, and where do we want to go from here? Which technological strategy will help us develop our school? Which are the competencies that our students really need to develop, when we consider that they are three, eight or fifteen years from entering the job market or playing an active part in social, economical or political “adult” life? Which are the competencies that teachers need to develop in order to serve as guides or even role models for their students? What are the implicit and explicit “messages” to the learners and the community, of the different hardware of software solutions that schools can choose from? Are students treated as responsible autonomous learners or are they vessels to fill with information that is expected to morph into knowledge? Do we talk about standards to the learners meaning specific software that “everyone” uses in the office, or do we talk about standards in the sense of information management, communication, non-linear production processes and so forth. Are ethics, authorship and empowerment important aspects of schools considerations, and are they connected to technology, or are technological resources seen as value free “tools”? Is the learner in control of the machine or is the machine in control of the learner? And who controls the machine that controls the learner?

Such questions are never left unanswered even if they are not raised. At least the answers are hidden in the choices schools make regarding hardware, software and distribution of technology.

At times where choices have to been made, my graph doesn’t necessary simplify the task but it helps to critically analyse possible scenarios and describe the interconnectedness of some major layers that maybe considered.

Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain