I have been thinking about the ‘Away Day’ I am attending tomorrow where we are thinking about the Faculty of Social Sciences Learning and Teaching Policy for the next 5 years. In particular I will be thinking about the technology aspect as this is part of my job and I have a responsibility to develop ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’.
I have taken part in this kind of event many times in my career and it always feels hard to project for the future. I think our best bet is to realise we cannot project for the future and that we need to have a policy which allows for this flexibility.
In essence this is what David Puttnam argues in his talk captured on video here about ‘The Future of Learning’.
I agree that what we have to do is invest in developing individuals to work in teams, to collaborate, to have agility. And that competence based learning is not what we need any more. This is also argued by Sugata Mitra in this film:
He despairs of those who insist that kids learn their times tables, saying that the system of education the Victorians developed was one in which all the kids had to learn the same as each other. This obviously allows us to compare kids all the time and this is what we seem obsessed with. But like James Paul Gee, (in this book) Mitra and Puttnam are arguing that we need to develop individual skills and help people think and work together. We should have different roles from each other in project based learning that we collaborate on.
Puttnam makes the point that classrooms these days look very similar to what they looked like 50 or even 100 years ago. This, he points out, is different to the progress we see in the operating theatres of today’s hospitals, compared to 100 years ago. I am less worried about this; I am happy that many classrooms are still keen to encourage interactivity that is not always mediated by technology (and actually my GP’s surgery is still very similar to one we may have seen in 1915). Sometimes we have to think about the kinds of interactivity that is right for the job we have in mind.
We are all still a bit alienated by things working on a grand scale and are inclined to hang onto technologies that let us talk to small groups of people, or privately to our best friends. The important thing is that technology allows us to make choices. We can select which one we need for the job we want to do. We are pretty good at this in our social lives but less good at work. We select whether to use Snapchat, Instagram, Flickr or email to communicate with each other. But in our classrooms, it seems to be one PowerPoint after another – that we mediate for our class or share in our Learning Management Systems. This is ‘polished performances of old practices’.
Puttnam talks about how teachers use lesson plan sharing sites and shows how in 2012 over 2 million plans were downloaded from one webiste alone; and that one teacher in her history of being on the site had seen her work downloaded over 1 million times. This kind of self generated activity is fascinating – and points to how we prefer to interact in ways that are not overseen by massive corporations and let us develop in ways we choose.
Mitra talks about how important it is that we teach the skills of reading comprehension; search and retrieval of resources; and critical literacy skills. This third point her refers to as teaching about belief and ‘armour against doctrine’.
For me, the pointers I take from this is that we need to teach students to:
Use technologies to find, evaluate and share knowledge; to collaborate and participate in research about knowledge; to collaborate in the creation of new knowledge. this I think, also means moving away from the traditional ways of presenting knowledge, and that we should allow them to choose the right technology to mediate what they have learned. I would also like to see us using technology in ways that does not simply replicate old practices but allows us to do new things. We need to realise that we have to move beyond the word processor.