Where was that option?

A teaching colleague in Australia asked a question on a mailing list the other day about ways to incorporate ICT into the teaching of literacy and numeracy for her students. She received a rather sensible suggestion (from a teacher/librarian) that her own school’s teacher/librarian should be able to help her with such a request. That seems sensible… after all aren’t librarians supposed to be trained in the use of literacy resources? Don’t librarians deal with information-based resources on a daily basis? And don’t most of our information-based resources come in a digital format these days? Logically then, wouldn’t a librarian be the best person to speak to if one wanted to some assistance with the use of ICT for assisting literacy?

So the suggestion was made. “Ask your friendly teacher/librarian. They should be able to help you.”

The answer came back… “Our teacher/librarian is not really into ICT”

“Not really into ICT?” Sorry, but when did the luxury of being “into ICT” become one of the choices? As a teacher, or a librarian, but especially as a teacher/librarian, you can’t just be “not really into ICT”. You’re free to choose many things… you can be “not really into heavy metal music”, or be “not really into black jelly beans” or be “not really into Dan Brown novels”, but to be “not really into ICT” is not an option you have. It makes me a bit cross, because it seems there are still librarians, and teachers too for that matter, who pick and choose what aspects of their job they decide they will “be into”.

I’m not really into writing programs and registers, but I have to. It’s part of the job of being a teacher. I’m not really into standing in the playground in the middle of winter, but supervision duty is part of the job of being a teacher. I didn’t used to know a huge amount about developing literacy skills, differentiating the curriculum, or dealing with peanut allergies, but I had to learn these things because it’s a part of the job of being a teacher. Not “being into” these things was not an option for me. It was “deal with it, or find another career”.

I’m not sure why being “into ICT” is still seen as optional for so many teachers. This is 2006. The use of digital technologies is so deeply embedded into our students’ cultures, lives, thinking and day-to-day existence, that for a teacher or a T/L to simply be “not into ICT” amounts to what I can only describe as professional negligence.

There I said it.

Time to retire the Stagecoach

One of my very favourite writers and thinkers about education is Seymour Papert. I really like his views on the ways in which schools need to change.

It cannot be incremental, it as to be revolutionary.

I get very frustrated when I hear teachers talk about the way technology can be used to “improve” teaching. It’s not about “improving” teaching. The fact is that the model of schooling which we blindly accept as a given is rooted in 19th century methodology, but the world has changed so dramatically that it’s not a matter of introducing a few computers and doing the same old things. We have to start doing new things, not old things in new ways.

One of Papert’s articles likens education to an old fashioned stagecoach, and talks about the ways in which a stagecoach could be improved. Although stagecoaches were an effective means of transportation in their day, as a means of transport they can certainly be improved upon. He muses on the idea of strapping a jet engine to a stagecoach as a way to improve its performance – in much the same way we tinker with adding technology into our outdated curriculum and thinking they will somehow magically improve things. Like the jet engine on the stagecoach, we need to do more than just add on some new technology to an old system. We need to design a whole new jet airplane, not add a jet engine to a stagecoach.

You can read the entire article here.

I particularly resonated with the notion that the early airplanes were still not as effective in their day as an old fashioned stagecoach. Some people say the same thing about education today – “we added computers to our classrooms but nothing really changed”.

But as Papert observes…

“… You have to stop trying to improve the functioning of the old system. Instead lay down the seeds for something new. Maybe this will result in decreased performance according to the traditional measures. Remember that the first airplanes were not so good as stagecoaches as means for getting around. But they were destined to revolutionize transportation…”

It’s about time for that revolution.

It's actually working…

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Wow, I’m amazed.  This podcasting idea is actually working.  The Virtual Staffroom, my little project to try and share the great  technology integration work done by some of Australia’s leading teachers is actually working.

I got an email today from a guy at the Australian Catholic University in Ballarat, Victoria, asking if he could burn 80 copies of the podcast to CD and give it to a group of pre-service teachers as they train to go out into the classrooms of Australia.  I was blown away.  This is within 48 hours of going live with Anne Baird’s Episode 1.

And then I just checked the iTunes Store, who are now including the show in their podcast directory.  It’s currently ranked number 1 podcast in the Educational Technology section! In fact its also ranked number 10 in the Education section overall.

And this is just the beginning!  Bring it on… 🙂

The Staffroom is Live

Yay! Another little project I’ve been working on lately is The Virtual Staffroom, a podcasting project where I’m trying to create a virtual conversation space for leading teachers to talk about the ways they integrate technology into their classrooms.

Episode one launches today with a wonderful conversation with Anne Baird from Wedderburn school in Victoria, Australia.

Head on over to www.virtualstaffroom.net and check it out. It should also be available very soon through the Podcast directory of the iTunes Store.

If you can read this, thank a Teacher

Yes, it’s almost that time of year again. Yes, on October 5 it will be World Teacher Day. So take a moment and send a quick email to a teacher that made a difference to you or your children. There’s nothing quite so lovely as getting a note from a student who tells you that you made a difference to them. I know it’s the true reward of the teaching profession.

PodcastGraphicsmall.jpgAnyway, I’m looking to also launch a new project I’ve been working on, and I reckon October 5 could be just the right date to do it. It’s a podcasting project where I’m getting the bestest, smartest, most creative teachers I know and sticking a few of them in a Skype conference, recording our conversation and releasing it as a podcast. We’ll talk about technology education in particular and what we can do to make school a great experience for the kids we teach.

Check it out on www.virtualstaffroom.net, and hopefully by October 5 we will have podcast number 1 up and running! Details for subscribing via iTunes or some other RSS aggregator will be on the site.

An Invasion of Armies Can be Resisted…

…but not an idea whose time has come, wrote Victor Hugo.

I just read a wonderful post over on the Fischbowl blog about a school ban on the use of certain “electronic devices” in class. The school I’m currently teaching at has just implemented a similar policy… and I think it sucks.

I was quite horrified when I heard the “new rule” for the start of the school year at my school here in Canada…

“No iPods, Cellphones or other electronic devices in class at any time”.

I can see little point in introducing rules that clearly cannot be enforced. I approached the vice principal after our first staff meeting and quizzed him about it, pointing out that I felt there were many educationally sound uses of an iPod in class, from class podcast projects to their use as a portable harddrive to some quiet private music to work to without bothering the rest of the class. He nodded sagely and said that of course, if it was for educational purposes it would be ok.

So what constitutes an “educational use” of these devices in the eyes of the administration? Apparently not very much, as we get reminded every morning that these devices of the devil are NOT to be in any classrooms.  In my opinion, any use of these devices that makes the classroom a better place to be or for learning to be made more effective, relevant or just plain enjoyable counts as an educational use. I really don’t think many teachers would be prepared to tolerate too many ongoing “un-educational” uses of them, such as having kids blasting music into their heads while the teacher was trying to explain something to the class.

But other than that, what really is the problem? Can’t teachers, if they see the MP3 player being used in a disruptive or annoying way, just say so to the kid and use it as a chance to impart a little “learning experience” about appropriate behaviour and appropriate uses of the device?

By placing a blanket ban on iPods and cell phones and “any other electronic device” (whatever that means), the administration sets themselves up for failure, or at least an ongoing battle that they will ever really win.