I have always felt that the teacher who thinks they can be replaced by a computer ought to be!
The response to the recent announcement of COOLs drew some superficial, hysterical, and quite astonishing responses. The announcement was characterised variously as a conspiracy to privatise education, to diminish the importance of teachers, to put our education system at risk and to fail many students. Again, the quick default to opposition of an idea showed its ugly side.
It seems to me to be a truth that, in some ways, COOL is already here and that most young people are already deeply immersed in it. Their “communities of online learning” encompass many of the concerns that young people have, the circles of friends that they make, their points of engagement with a world-wide web that takes them to places far more enriching, challenging, and rewarding than a school environment could ever hope to be. The sadness is in the extent to which schooling so often stands to one side of this and offers the conventional as an antidote to what it seems to suspect, might be poisonous.
On the other hand, simply importing a kind of embrace with on-line learning could be dangerous. The post-secondary world of learning internationally has shown through its MOOCs what a sham it could all be. I enrolled in a MOOC at the University of Edinburgh. Never have I been so warmly welcomed instantly, never have I had so many friends in such places as Nigeria, Luxembourg, Belarus and even Greenland in the various chat rooms, never was I more excited about learning. Excited I remained until I got delivered into my computer the first session. A talking head, reading from a script took me through material in a manner that transported me back to my university experience in the 1960s. This was repeated in all seven sessions in the course, the only difference each time was a change of talking head. We had a set text as well. Yes, you guessed it – seven chapters written by seven lecturers and sold on Amazon!
If a school and the teachers in online instruction harnessed the skills they have as teachers and as people and used them to enhance programmes they will be needed in the learning process more than ever. The flipped classroom, the new pedagogy, the 21st Century learners, each demand an increased quality and variety of interaction between teacher and learner even though the delivery of content and the activities to make learners comfortable with managing the course materials and content will be accessible to anyone, anywhere, on time and on-line.
Those last few words seem familiar. They should be! They are the commitment of NZQA to deliver assessment to anyone, anywhere, on time and on-line.
When teaching programmes are freed from the tyranny of place and students are free to experience the encouragement of assessment arriving at the point at which it is most needed, the world of education will be a very different place. And it is difficult to see how this will not happen. There is inevitability about the power of IT to transform the processes of banking, retailing and the practice of medicine, to simplify access to music, to books and to information, to enhance and ease the interactions between friend, colleagues, customers and, yes, bullies and those at risk – human beings are a lumpy lot!
But there is something more fundamental about change that is at play in those first reactions to the COOL idea. I read an article a long time ago. (I photocopied a couple of pages but have since lost the source.) It was a book review (the book was called “Tinkering Towards Utopia”) and it noted that “reform” and “change” were not synonymous. It referred to an article by Cuban (1992) called “Computers Meet Classroom: Classroom Wins”. It was written at a time when computers were being brought into the classroom and the writer reported that it was noted that “as the level of computers and devices were brought into the classroom, we are beginning to observe changes in the relationship between teachers and students brought about not by a reform, but by the fact that the students have acquired a new kind of sophistication – not only about computers but also about ways to learn and methods of research.”
The article, which I am guessing was written somewhere near the end of the 1980s, concludes that what was happening “exemplified one of the major principles in its presentation of the generic life-cycle of reforms. The reform sets out to change the School but in the end School changes the reform. One may at first blush see a tautology in using this proposition to explain failures of reform. But to say that School changes reform is very different from simply saying that School resist or rejects the reform. It resists the reform in a particular way – by appropriating or assimilating it to its own structures. By doing so, it defuses the reformers and sometimes manages to take in something of what they are proposing.”
Perhaps this process had started some time ago in our schools with the uses made of computers, devices and the technological advances in instructional technologies. The COOL announcement might well be a useful wake-up call. There are enough young people alienated from learning and education without inviting those already comfortable with a community of on-line learning to join them.
I keep useful papers and bits and pieces in a loose collection but have not always been punctilious about noting the sources. Well that is not good enough and quite inexcusable when sitting at a computer! I set about using my skills and discover in a few seconds that the paper referred to above is in fact “Why School Reform Is Impossible” written by Seymour Papert which appeared in The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 6(4), pp. 417-427. Now, finding that out so quickly is very cool!
The Tertiary ICT Conference theme for this year is Bring IT On which focuses on identifying and sharing the key issues and opportunities for ICT in secondary and tertiary education, now and into the future. A must for those in ICT Management, Teaching personnel and Service delivery teams.
For more information and to register, please go to: http://www.tertiaryictconference.co.nz/