Perhaps we aren’t ready for this. Perhaps there are too many forces marshalled against the idea for it to succeed right now. Perhaps we should wait just a few more years.
To drop the ‘e’ from eLearning would be to suggest that we are comfortable enough with technology in schools that we no longer see it as something ‘else’, an alien presence in a space that only tolerates it rather than actively seeking to make it part of the norm.
I’d like to think that we can drop the e from eLearning or the ICT focus and just call it learning and teaching. We don’t even have to add “with technology”. We might still use the term “edutech” for ideas generated to specifically address the purposes of educators and the education systems in our world, but how far do we go?
Let’s consider a few other examples.
Social networks. Yes we might say to look me up on LinkedIn or friend me on FaceBook, but we don’t need to say ‘use technology to find me’. In fact, for the vast majority of our students, they don’t even consider having a social media presence as anything special or distinct. (Perhaps that’s why when they disconnect from it during the HSC or make other conscious reactions to it we pay so much attention: not being a part of it is “different”.)
Commerce. I have a chequebook somewhere. I think. I’ve certainly never written a cheque myself. The only times I go to the bank are to ask specific questions for complex issues (though I could look it up or call a number). I use my bank’s mobile app almost daily and more often use the web version for greater functionality as needed. Some still talk about mobile banking and eCommerce, but increasingly it is simply becoming banking. Businesses that rely on cheques and paper (and lengthy processes that could easily be digitised with the same level of security and productivity), will and do suffer.
Let’s get a little closer to education…
Knowledge. I am a teacher and I love my History but increasingly I find myself reading relevant chunks of books rather than the whole thing. Some things I read for pleasure, but this is why I think whilst libraries are redesigning themselves to be active knowledge hubs, they’ll probably never get rid of the Fiction section. I’m cool with that. Non-Fiction on the other hand, I divide into either topics I am deeply interested in and therefore might purchase a physical copy to dive into and swim around, or necessary collections of inscribed trees that have useful ideas I can take into the classroom. As publishers shudder at the rising costs of publishing and the vanishing audiences for inscribed trees, digital information is staggeringly useful because not only can I read it again and again, I can do things with it that a book simply can’t do – at least not nearly as effectively.
Now for the big one…
Learning. Recently, as always, my mind is being pushed and pulled in different directions by the amazing conversations I have in my PLN, the podcasts I listen to, the teachmeets and workshops I get to take part in, and of course my own classes. I challenge anyone to prove that we could do what we are now expected to do in schools without technology being present on a daily basis. I challenge anyone further to prove that technology does not belong in schools and as part of the learning process.
Naturally there are some tasks – perhaps even whole days – where students need not power up their device in the classroom. Sometimes it’s great to sit under a tree with a class and ask big questions such as “if History were a shape or a symbol, what shape would it be and why?” (nod to my History Extension class there). [I’d also argue that you could use tech to record and capture that learning, but that’s another level of argument.]
I don’t believe that technology should drive pedagogy but I do believe it opens doors that we cannot open without it. Teachers should always be the best learners in the room, testing and adapting technologies that suit the learning pathway they build with their students.
One big stumbling block is handwriting. I was lucky enough to hang out with a bunch of great educators at Microsoft HQ in Sydney and see that technology has finally caught up with our expectations of it… almost. The new devices put forward by Microsoft – the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro – are challenging our obsession with handwriting in that we can now fairly reasonably throw away a pen and paper thanks to tech.
The HSC is a mostly written, externally assessed exam that all students in my state sit and thus used as the major reason for continuing to teach young people how to write by hand. I wonder what the impact of handwritten examinations will be when we can do it using a digital pen. We can monitor students’ writing as they do it perhaps to level up to a new kind of formative assessment. We can still ask students to practice their handwriting so they can communicate in this very human and natural way. But with devices like this – not even considering the collaboration, creativity and connected possibilities – we can truly begin to see technology as something that is part of what we do rather than a distinct and separate addition, something that can be put aside as irrelevant or unnecessary.
It’s 2015. The students who graduate this year have only lived in the 21st century. How long can we convince them that technology doesn’t belong in their everyday learning? How long before they start looking at school as a quaint – and irrelevant – institution for their growth?
So what do you think – are we ready to drop the “e”? Should we? If so, what do we need to do to make that happen?