Innovating education with technology.
One of the benefits of getting older is that you can reflect back on a time when things were done differently. Similarly, you can also clearly see when other things are essentially the same. Although the world around our schools is dramatically different, many of the pillars of our educational systems remain unchanged. Given the dramatic and accelerating transformation in the world around us, it's certainly time to reflect upon how we conduct the business of schooling.
Many have already started down this path. We acknowledge the clear need to move from "sage on the stage" teaching to student empowered learning. We realize that our old content delivery models of education need to be replaced with more experiential and discovery based processes. We understand the limitations of a text only approach and try to integrate different forms of media. Now it's time to revise another sacred cow that has been symptomatic of institutional education since its inception.
It's time to let go of the notion that we need to control student behavior. It's time to realize that we cannot and should not dictate the manner in which students learn. One area where the desire for control is clearly manifested is our use of technology in school.
Now before you fire up that impassioned response let me clarify that I'm not advocating a complete hands-off policy that gives students the freedom to do whatever they desire. There's a clear distinction between "protection" and "control". Protecting students from accidentally getting a computer virus or being routed to a pornography website is important. Deciding what apps they use; preventing them from managing their devices; undue censorship of internet activity; using software to watch their screens during class - these are control issues.
It's ironic that we insist on censoring and controlling technology use. Outside school technology is characterized by freedom and empowerment - the ability for anyone to easily access or publish information, connect with people across the world and utilize media for new forms of creative expression and knowledge expansion. Innovation leads to new technologies which in turn can nurture further innovation. However that can only occur if we allow it...
Technology is a product of change however we often design our implementations in manners that latch onto the comfortable old structures we've always used. Teachers control the class and it's always been heretical to suggest otherwise. We therefore decide what technology students use and more importantly, how they will use it - even though they represent the first generations in history that are mastering many of the essential tools of everyday life before the adults that came before them.
If we know anything about the world outside school it's that it requires an ability to adapt to change. We insist that modern life requires graduates that are experienced, independent learners. School is the time to start developing those skills. When we enable the use of technology in school we should also grant students the independence and freedom to use it their own way.
Most importantly, encourage creative, independent and innovative use of technology.
Our desire for controlling the use of technology is emblematic of a deeper problem. Top-down institutional control isn't a workable model in an era where the marketplace requires graduates to have skills for learning anything, anywhere and at any time. Following instruction is important but there's also an urgent need to develop personal innovation - the sort of flexible, creative thought and action that's required to deal with a world of tumultuous change. Innovation requires that we open the metaphorical classroom windows and doors. Instead we still feel more comfortable keeping them closed. Is it about control or are we more concerned with efficiency? Are we making decisions based on their needs or ours?
Whenever I discuss iPad or BYOD implementations in schools one of the first issues raised usually revolves around problems associated with management and control. iPads are difficult to manage on an institutional level. That could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe it presents us with the right timing and opportunity to finally allow students to manage their devices and develop their skills as independent and responsible learners.