Computer Says No…
As I’ve already mentioned, I was LTS‘s guest on Monday and Tuesday at a meeting to discuss how LTS should move forward on emerging technologies, aka, Web2.0. I did have to work for my keep, and so had been asked by John Connell to speak about filtering/blocking as it affects a teacher in the classroom. Ewan (edu.blogs.com) has already given an account of what I said, and it has engendered quite a few responses, so I thought I’d better flesh out what I said for anyone else who’s interested (BTW: I apologise for the length of the post!)
I was honoured to be asked, and based what I said on my own experiences, others thoughts on the subject (eg: David Warlick, Vicki Davis, etc) and also the comments left on some of my own blog posts, most notably Who Watches the Watchers?
I took as my premise, the fact that at present in Scotland there is no ‘joined up thinking’ with regards to filtering of content. The problem varies from authority to authority, and also from school to school. Whilst most inappropriate sites are blocked, this comes at a price because many really useful ones are filtered as well. As a teacher, I find this frustrating and demeaning. Only last week, Mrs Blethers said that, with regards to filtering:
I found it frustrating and demeaning to be treated as if I too were a pupil who was not trusted to know how to unlock the sacred mysteries.
This is a sentiment that is all too easily recognised by any teacher who wants to do a bit more with the internet than visit the BBC news pages…
Having established the background, I set out to identify the key problems that I feel LTS can help teachers with. What follows is an adaptation of my main points…
Fear – Ignorance – Time
As I see it, the main reasons for blocking access to Web2.0 products like blogging tools, wikis, flickr, et al can be summed up in three words: Fear, Ignorance and Time.
- inappropriate content,
- time-wasting, and
- the unknown…
Let’s be honest, most teachers are scared of what they might find on the internet. They know that there is inappropriate content online and so they are happier sticking their heads in the sand by blocking anything even remotely risque or distasteful, regardless of whether this means blocking perfectly acceptable/desirable resources. The flaw in this approach is that it is not addressing the problem. If we are going to teach our pupils or children to deal with inappropriate material then we should be discussing it with them. Perhaps if we approached it with a more open mindset we might be able to make it less acceptable to the pupils… at the very least, we can discuss with them WHY some material is considered inappropriate.
Teachers are also scared that time spent on the computers is seen as time-wasting… or playing… and this requires a shift of mind-set… as Derek Robertson is showing, there is a very real need for us to re-evaluate our attitudes and opinions of computer games. We need to realise that we do learn when we are having fun… and that maybe playing a game is the best way to learn about terrorism (September 12) or world events (Darfur is Dying).
The other real fear that I believe teachers suffer from is fear of the unknown. The technologies that we are discussing and considering for classroom use are not only unknown, some of them don’t even exist yet! It’s much easier as teachers to sit in our comfort zones and stick with what we know. Unfortunately, this position is no longer tenable because, whether we like it or not, the pupils are using these tools, and doing so with confidence that comes from experience. Teachers really do have to make the effort to learn about, and use blogs, wikis and so forth lest they be seen as increasingly irrelevant by the pupils.
Teachers are, on the whole, ignorant of;
- the new tools,
- how to use them, and
- how they can enhance and extend learning…
If you are reading this, then you already know what a blog is… but do you have a blog yourself? A wiki? A flickr account? Which RSS reader do you use? Have you got a Second Life or heard about technorati? Do you use a social browser like Flock?
Teachers are highly qualified members of society… and hate being perceived as ignorant in any way shape or form, yet to all intents and purposes, most teachers are ignorant of the potential and power that the emerging technologies can bring. They may have heard of blogs (thanks to Richard and Judy!), and some have heard of Wikipedia… but in my own school, I’m the only one with a flickr account that I know of… at least amongst the teachers.
Ignorance is easy, but ignorance of the tools that are available leads to ignorance of the gains they can bring. There is a strong sense that education in Scotland is changing. Initiatives like A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE) and Assessment is for Learning are much more radical (I think) than most teachers realise. And there is a growing belief amongst the Web2.0 users that A Curriculum for Excellence is not possible without Web2.0 technology.
Teachers need time to:
- to learn about the tools and what they can do,
- to experiment with them, and
- to do everything else they need to do (marking, preparation, having a life!)…
The teacher has not yet been born who thinks there is enough time in the week. The prospect of learning about new technology is a daunting one, and may be the biggest stumbling block to adoption of emerging technologies… but it is a block which I believe must be overcome. We need to realise that these are tools that can enhance what we do in the classroom, and we also need to accept that, whether we like it or not, we will need to use them.
I know that, in many ways, I’m preaching to the converted when I talk about Web2.0 tools on a blog, but I have been convinced that they are becoming an essential part of every teacher’s tool-kit. If you don’t accept that, I’d direct you to the Bass Player’s Blog where one of my pupils makes the case for learning about Web2.0 much more eloquently than I can.
And so, that is a wee synopsis of what I had to say. You can get more details and another’s view of what I said over on Ewan’s blog. I did flesh it out somewhat, and used some pretty slides, but the main points are here. Fear, ignorance and lack of time are stumbling blocks on the road to fuller adoption of emerging technologies, but no more than that. We owe it to the pupils we see day in and day out to do the best we can for them, to push them, to challenge them, to drive them, and to guide them… even if we are afraid of the path they’re choosing.
Learning about, adopting and embedding emerging technologies is not always going to be easy: it may not always be a fun journey, and it will often be very hard work… but the difference these tools can make is, I believe, immense.