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In the wake of change

I started my first ever Open University course today. And what did I do as soon as I got the email saying I was enrolled? I got into the course website and started exploring. Wow, have they got it sorted. The whole Open University concept is so well suited to the internet, it’s hard to understand how it ever functioned without it!

Having got to grips with the system a thought occurred to me, why are we still so far behind in schools? It’s not hard to imagine how better use of the web could really revolutionise the way secondary schools function, and therefore how students experience education. I’m not suggesting that we should shut all secondary schools and replace them with a version of the OU, of course not. But there could really be a lot more variety in the system than there currently is. It just so happens that Ian Stuart shared the following great animation on Facebook today also, with the question “When will education culturally accept this change?“.

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Image by Best Reviews

It is amazing, isn’t it? I first used the internet in about 1995 I think, and I got my first mobile phone in about 2000. Since then the use of the web has revolutionised the way we do so much, except learning in classrooms. My school are in the process of switching on an open wireless network throughout the school and opening the door to students using their own mobile devices in class, which is fantastic, but perhaps this shouldn’t really be that cutting edge by now? A mere eight years after the first iPhone was launched and McDonalds first installed free WiFi in all of its UK restaurants!

There is some great work going on in the world of Digital Learning (such as the provision of Glow and the new NDLF in Scotland), but I sometimes worry that the pace is too slow, and even where devices are being provided to students, do our current curricular structures allow and encourage their most effective use? Too often devices are introduced and used to simply replace the pen and paper and our practices continue relatively unchanged. However, the effective use of technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we do things as well augment what we already do. One example of this is High Tech High in the US. I like the way in the following video that you can see that IT is integral to the way they learn, but they don’t really focus on it when they’re explaining the way their schools work:

I recently wrote a little piece for the GTCS Teaching Scotland magazine about how we’ve dropped the word ‘digital’ from ‘digital banking’ as no-one really banks any other way anymore. And yet in education, we’re only beginning to dip our toes into ‘digital’ learning, how much longer will it be until we’ve reached the point when we can drop the ‘digital’ again?

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Given how far behind we are on this front in education, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of urgency either. For me, I think we need three things to get moving with this:

  1. Significant investment in hardware, networks and software in schools.
  2. Continuous support, encouragement and guidance for teachers and schools who are wanting to do something different in order to make the most of technology to transform young people’s learning.
  3. An agenda of policy reform (probably through the CLTAS forums) which aims to alter the curriculum to enable teachers and schools to modify their practice to make the most of the potential of technology.

I really feel that we need to get a move on with this or we’re putting our young people at a disadvantage in terms of the skills they are leaving us with. I don’t claim to have got it perfect myself yet, but I’ve long tried my hardest within a system which isn’t conducive to change. However, I’ll finish with a quote from one our former students who left us to study medicine at univeristy.

I think that the single best thing that my time at Preston Lodge gave me was such good experience in using Google Drive and other online resources (particularly from the biology/science department). This really let me hit the ground running when I came into lectures etc, as I already had methods to use that I had tried and tested during my time at school. Please keep on encouraging pupils to use Google at PL, it’s very very very very useful!

All we had done was tried our hardest to use Google Apps when appropriate and possible to support learning, which was nowhere as much as we would’ve liked to due a lack of hardware, network and conducive curricula, however imagine how much more confidence our young people could have in using the web constructively when leaving our schools if we could just get on with it!


One Comment

  • Reply Gregor Steele |

    We are in the middle of a residential course where everyone gets an Android tablet with apps that we hope enhance physics teaching beyond the device simply being a “window on the web” or presentation / note-taking aid. Examples include motion analysis, sound engineering, accelerometers. So far , have found them to inspire creativity in the teachers on the course.

So, what do you think ?