Wednesday, 7 December 2011

"All change please - the Internet is coming"

Extract from the opening address at the Independent Schools Council ICT Strategy Conference 07/12/11

"At first glance we have taken a rather retro title for today's conference and I am sure that many will consider the title ironic. For all but the one or two colleagues for whom the Internet still poses more of a threat than an opportunity, there’s nothing new about the Internet. We have all enjoyed its increasing benefits over the past twenty years and it has changed how our classrooms look and feel. Digital projectors and Interactive White Boards have been ubiquitous for over a decade and the arrival of reliable classroom connectivity this has meant that teachers have been able to harness the many resources that we find on the Internet, be that seismic sites in Geography or YouTube clips of science experiments and World War footage elsewhere in the curriculum. However, if you go into most of our classrooms today, you will still find teachers at the front of the class, very much still in control, and (in most cases at least) only using the Interactive Whiteboard as an expensive mouse. Good Internet access in schools has not changed fundamentally how we have been teaching. If Teachers have long been the high priests of subject knowledge and are loathe to give it up their status.

The Internet may not have had a significant impact on how we teach, but I do believe that it is going to transform how pupils learn. However, in a very real sense we do need to prepare for change for, indeed, the Internet is coming! We meet today at a significant time of change for the way in which we do learning in our schools. It has only been relatively recently that two factors have come together that will change the way we do education. First, broadband Internet has gone mobile. Increasingly we can take it for granted that we can access the Internet anywhere, not just when we're plugged in, but also on the move. We are now used to being permanently connected and what's more at a relatively cheap cost - well unless you leave Data Roaming on when you go abroad - that's when it really comes home how cheap it is on a daily basis! Secondly, we now all have access to a range of web-based applications that make it possible for users around the world to collaborate on projects, without the constraints of having to run the same software package.

Reliable access to broadband Internet on mobile devices combined with the rise of high quality easily accessible, web-based collaborative tools has the potential to transform learning. These two factors are empowering pupils, allowing them to have a greater say and take greater control over how they learn. Young people are beginning to study differently and we are beginning to see a shift that is taking control away from teachers and giving it to the pupils.

Several years ago I was privileged to hear Dylan Wiliam address the HMC Conference on Teaching and Learning. The essence of his argument was that pupils learn more from each other than from the teacher. What he said struck a chord with me. I was teaching classroom ICT at the time [teaching the ECDL to Year 9] and could see this dynamic in action. Two or three pupils in the class got what I said, and I could literally see this knowledge spread around the classroom virally as pupils taught each other how to navigate the inner workings of the MS Office suite. Indeed, when I look back on my time at school, it was my friend with whom I caught the train to and from school who taught me Maths; and I taught him R.S. As far as we were allowed, we asked others in the class to explain the things that we didn’t get first time. I didn’t realize it then, but fundamentally we were teaching each other.

We now have web-based tools in place that allow pupils to share ideas and to collaborate on projects. Google Docs and a whole range of web-based freeware enable pupils to comment on each other's work, to pool their collective knowledge and understanding. Pupils are able to share their expertise with other pupils, they are able to refine their ideas and to bring on the weaker students.

Collaborative working is one of the most important skills that this generation of pupils is going to need in life - it is already the norm in work place. It is perhaps a digital immigrant’ s perspective to even ask the question, but this way of working raises a whole range of issues about what constitutes cheating. Collaboration is the norm and it certainly is the future.

The whole Wikipedia project is based on the premise of the "Wisdom of the Crowd", i.e. that there are sufficient experts and enthusiasts 'out there' who collectively know more any individual and who will correct, update and amend articles. Using collaborative tools allows teachers to harness the "Wisdom of the Class" - allowing pupils to share ideas and to support each other.

I am a great believer that classrooms should be "places of learning" rather than "places of teaching". Schooling is not about well-crafted lessons, but about whether or not pupils actually learn. Such an approach demands that the role of teachers will change. Yes, there will be a key role for teachers in the new order, but it will be different to their traditional role. Teachers will need to be facilitators, setting up the structures for the collaboration to take place. They will need to set the assignments and they will need to monitor that the discussions are on track, but a light touch approach is what will be required. Pupils operate best when they see this as "their" space. Teachers are able to follow the discussions and even to join in the discussions when necessary.

So I do believe that we, once again, we find that ICT is the engine of educational revolution. New technologies will mean that schools will begin to operate differently. So, in a very real sense, once again we must say, "All change please - the Internet is coming".

No comments:

Post a Comment