Remember, remember, the livefeed of November

Just finished watching a livefeed of Alan November at TEDxNYED. I’ll update the blog with the link as soon as the video is posted. As always engaging and challenging, but it did set me to thinking about how long it takes for change to occur in education.

My first Alan November fix was in 2004 when teaching in Bedfordshire. He was keynote at an East of England Broadband consortium conference (which had a great speaker list) in 2004. In the intervening year I have seen him a number of times at various conferences in the UK, always speaking sense, always backing up what he says with evidence. I take (at least) two key messages from November (Alan?, Mr N?): children learn better when they learn not just from their teacher, but from a range of people, including their peers, and that used properly, technology facilitates this pedagogy of learning and teaching in a way that cannot be done without it.

So really, what I have are a series of questions (sorry guys, no answers here today), and they are focussed on the English education system because that’s the one I know, it’s the one my kids use and its the one I want to get better.

Firstly, is he right? Do children learn better when getting a range of inputs? Intuitively it feels right to me and my own teaching experiences support it, but I would still like to see the research.

How well do children learn from each other? Again, it is something I have seen working well in my own classroom (and at home with my two children). There is more academic research around this but much of it hails from the pre-PC age (if Steve Jobs can call the iPad “a post-PC device” then I can lay claim to the phrase pre-PC) which sometimes makes it difficult to relate to today’s learning experiences.

So, assuming that we can get positive answers to the above, how well does the use of technology facilitate this social learning? Well, in English schools, not very well. Much of the use of technology in schools has been set up to automate processes that have been carried out in education for years, providing students with what are effectively expensive paper and pen (and because it is using pre-Touch technology it doesn’t even do that very well). Very little use of technology in schools could be said to be doing things that can’t be done without it. Agreed, sometimes faster and sometimes neater, but infrequently could it not be done with pencil and paper. You only have to look at those schools that have used technology well to change learning, to see the gulf.

Okay, now I’m going to venture an opinion rather than ask a question. Personally I think that this has had much to do with the control of technology in schools being in the hands of the technologists rather than the pedagogists. This is not to lay any fault at the door of all technologists – at least they brought the stuff in and many of them (us?) are excellent and innovative pedagogists. But too often the technology in schools has passed out of the hands of the educators and into the hands of the technicians.

And now to go even further out on a limb – often the good intentions of both technologists and pedagogists are frustrated by over-zealous and self-interested safeguarding processes. The area of safeguarding is a whole other batch of posts, but suffice to say here – my 10 year old daughter is not safeguarded by her school banning access to the outside world. The school is safeguarded, but she isn’t.

But I digress. My point, if there is one, is that the pedagogists really do have to wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe when you last seriously looked at what the technology could do it wasn’t ready for you or your students. Well, it is now. The technology is mature. Is doesn’t crash all the time (especially if its an iPad app). The software and the hardware is there, often in the pocket of the students (assuming they haven’t been banned from using it), and often free to use. My challenge to the pedagogists is for them to stop leaving the technology to the technologists. Embrace it and internalise it in your own practice.