A pair of BBC items in January brought a question into focus: to what extent should teachers use new technology in their teaching. See “Too much technology in the classroom?” and the follow-up two weeks later, “Doubts over hi-tech white boards”. These also relate to the recent discussion here and elsewhere about using blogging as a teaching tool.
First, note that the question the BBC articles are considering is somewhat different from the one of student blogging, in that the BBC is talking about teachers, not students, using the technology. It's particularly important to understand that it's not a question of whether to teach technology, but whether to teach with technology — I hope we all agree that we have to teach our children to understand and use what's in the technological world around them (though we might disagree at what ages to push the various things).
But why isn't the use of technology as a teaching tool equally clear? The first BBC article starts right off with an example of the problem:
Interactive whiteboards can even “slow the pace of whole class learning”, the study commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills suggested. They can also lead to “relatively mundane activities being over-valued”, the Institute of Education study found.A government program put interactive whiteboards (IWBs) into the schools, trying to get at least some into every secondary school in London.
IWBs allow teachers to access computer programs and multi-media, such as images, music and video, on a large screen at the front of the class. Pupils can come up to the front of the class and touch the board to interact with what is on it.
That sounds great. What, then, is the problem? What I get from reading the articles is this:
- The results were studied barely a year after the boards were introduced. It's not clear that there was enough time for teachers to figure out how best to take advantage of them.
- Many teachers do not want to use them. Either they don't believe the IWBs can make a difference and they are unwilling to try them, or they don't want to put the effort into learning to use a new tool.
A year is nowhere near enough time to rework the curriculum to make use of these things. And it's clear that just sticking one in a classroom without a significant change in the lesson plan is just asking for underuse and misuse. The plan has to be designed around the devices in order for them to be most useful. It seems that the students were initially excited about them, but that excitement faded when it wasn't accompanied by excitement and adoption by the teachers. The boards were used mostly for simple projection, usually not taking advantage of the more interesting and interactive features. The administrators, as well, often didn't put much effort into it, since “departments' purchases seem to be as much a matter of chance as informed choice.”
There are questions of reliability of the devices and the software; it's not clear to me how much of that comes from the teachers' being unfamiliar with their use. And it's not clear to me how much of that is due to the short time since the introduction of the IWBs and how much comes from an unwillingness to change. Some of the teachers' comments in the second article lead me to believe that there's more unwillingness than I'd like to see.
I would hope to see teachers embracing new teaching tools and methods, and it disturbs me to see a strong resistance to such change. I suppose that in the end teachers are like the rest of us — we're comfortable with how we've done things before, and it takes a lot of work to learn something new. But the students we're teaching today will have to learn to use these new things, and having them use them first as tools for learning will give them the familiarity they'll need in the future.
One teacher has this to say:
Children should be able to find pleasure in simple things. We shouldn't make it all Disney-like every time we come to school....which is another way of saying that we should do things the way we always have, and not change. I don't buy it. The world has changed, and, for better or worse, the world is a lot more “Disney-like” than it used to be.
On the other hand:
She argues the £3,000 cost of each board could be better used reducing class sizes or funding an extra floating teacher....and that may well be true. The experiment should not be over yet; it needs to have time and training behind it. But in the end it might, indeed, turn out that there are better ways to spend the money. Even if technology has a new place in the classroom, IWBs might not be the right tools.
And there's a down-side to having so much technology available to those not yet mature enough. As a final note, consider this item from the New York Times, “Teenagers Misbehaving, for All Online to Watch”:
17-year-old Gary Buley-Neumar explained: “Kids beat up other kids and tape it, just so other kids will see it and laugh. Or they just post stupid things they did online so other kids will look at their Web page.”