Losing digital control

March 2011

 

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Many teachers face students who seem to have better digital skills than they do, especially when it comes to the internet. Empowering students through ICT is a challenge.

Integrating technology into the classroom in a meaningful and powerful way leaves many educators flummoxed.

The key to successfully integrating ICT into the classroom lies in inspired and bold leadership, according to international educationalist Dr Scott McLeod. He says most leaders aren’t skilled in their theory and they need a lot of help.

“Every educator needs a listening station. There are a number of powerful uses of digital technologies occurring in classrooms all around the world. So how can educators keep themselves informed and improve their practice in a way that works?”

The lack of effective use of ICTs in schools is a global challenge, McLeod says. “Most schools are fairly hierarchical and concerned with organisational authority; they’re concerned with control and so we don’t see a lot of schools focused on empowering kids. It’s still more about what we want them to know and what we want them to do, rather than what they want to know and what they want to do with it.”

We know technology empowers people to do things that they’ve never been able to do before, but this idea of putting a powerful computing device in the hands of a 12-year-old and letting them access audiences, previously reserved for large scale media companies, is a daunting prospect for some educational institutions.

Seen as a distraction, the mobile telephone has been effectively banned from classrooms for some time, but is now being recognised as a student-driven learning tool. Children with autism discovered in iPad a powerful communication tool specific to their individual needs within a few weeks of iPad appearing on the market*. Autistic children were designing combination applications with immediate impact on their learning and communication needs, obliging their educators to look again at their curriculum.

“ICT is exciting and I think people who aren’t so technology savvy tend to dismiss some of what is happening out there, and they can’t really get a sense of what the bigger picture is. The idea that you can connect to a global community of learners who are passionate about the same thing as you are, whatever that is, and that you can be a contributor, is tremendous.”

As our devices become more portable, more affordable and more powerful, this informal learning through global connections is happening every day, everywhere and McLeod advocates that we need to filter this into formal learning structures in schools and universities.

“As educators, the biggest thing we need to be doing right now is to have a willingness to let kids take some risks and to do that in an open-ended way. We need to say ‘I don’t know how this experiment or this technological tool is going to turn out but, we’re going to do it anyway and see what happens and learn from it’.

“The kids need to be active participants and owners of that process.” He says it’s fine for teachers to say they don’t know a lot about a new technology. There’s no need for them to lead the children through step by step and tell them what it is going to look like. “They can go to class and say let’s try some stuff, what ideas do you have about what could we do with it?

“I think that’s a really powerful experience for teachers and kids. I don’t see a lot of that kind of risk-taking going on.”

McLeod believes this open-ended, divergent education process and experimentation in learning as you go doesn’t coincide well with the standard convergent model of education. “But this is where the power is.”