computers, classroom, climbing, etc.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Technology is its own biggest limitation.

Part three in my ‘sins of the Web 2.0’ series

2. Pretending that all this stuff works all the time.

Monday morning. Mid-term to be written on individual computers. I block internet access to prevent cheating, but need to leave a dictionary and our LMS open. This partial block causes chaos with their internet connections. In this digital age, some of the pupils have no paper dictionary, so they need their connection. I also need the LMS open so that they can submit. Our harassed IT-guy shows up and spends ages looking at the problem.

And I’m lucky. Lots of teachers don’t even have an ‘IT-guy’ they can call. The system manager in their school is some eager teacher who gets a 25% reduction in class load or something, but then isn’t always available when problems arise, because they have to teach the other 75%.

I remember wasting tons of time when I was small as some hapless teacher struggled with the 16 mm film projector. What do my pupils get to see me struggle with?

  1. Pupil’s hardware (all 30)
  2. Pupil’s OS
  3. Pupils software (all of these first 3 having themselves dozens of components)
  4. Pupil’s internet connection
  5. Base station
  6. Local net and server
  7. Our line out of the building
  8. Problems with external resources.

…and I’m probably forgetting a few things. ‘Doing school’ in this manner means that someone has to spend a lot of time making sure all this works, or we waste hours of class. It’s a new situation, and I’m constantly amazed that in the endless discussions around digital schools, no-one seems to talk about the technical side of things. The truth is, many teachers experience technical problems much of the time and this is possibly the biggest hurdle to effective use of digital technology in the classroom.

I note that Microsoft’s ‘School of the Future’ in Philadelphia has so far been ticked off as a failure. There have been several factors in the troubles that they have had, but I note that frustration with net down-time has been an important issue. If they can’t get it right, is it any wonder that the rest of us get frustrated?

The question I'm forced to ask, though, is can we honestly expect teachers to integrate technology into their instruction when we can't guarantee that they'll have consistent access to the proper tools to do that work?

This is Bill Ferriter at the Tempered Radical, one of the many web-gurus that I still can’t manage to cross off my personal hero list. Saying teachers need to develop “digital resiliency”, he is talking mostly about other kinds of blocks than the plain technical glitches I’m mostly talking about, but Bill still goes where few go here. In conference after conference, on all the hot EduBlogs, in the latest books, where is this discussion? I’ll say it again: technical difficulties are the single greatest hurdle to effective use of digital technology in the classroom. Not lack of pedagogical vision, not unwilling teachers, not lack of funds. It can be hard to get much of this stuff to work because there is so much that has to work properly to get a class online.

Post Script

Will Richardson (another web-guru I can’t quite cross off my personal list. He’s such a nice man.) wrote a post called “I Don’t Need Your Network (or Your Computer, or Your Tech Plan, or Your…)” while I was working on this one and takes an interesting angle. He asks:

  • How are we going to have to rethink the idea that we have to provide our kids a connection? Can we even somewhat get our brains around the idea of letting them use their own?
  • At what point do we get out of the business of troubleshooting and fixing technology? Isn’t “fixing your own stuff” a 21st Century skill?


  • Could we then start to think about...getting back to teaching?

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