Last week we had one of the world’s ed tech experts, Alan November make a whirlwind visit to Parramatta. I had an opportunity to take Alan to one of our primary schools to see how students and teachers were working in an agile space. He then spent a few hours sharing his insights and expertise with a group of leaders and teachers, many of whom have been following Alan’s blog and podcasts for years. We’re certainly grateful that Alan could make some time in his hectic schedule to challenging our thinking.
The point that Alan made which I think is beginning to take root is that while you need technology to facilitate change, it isn’t in itself the change agent. If we use technology to do the same thing we’ve always been doing, only more efficiently, then we miss the mark. We need to change what we teach, how we teach and why we teach it.
Alan believes the greatest challenge we face is teaching students to become ‘researchers’ and critical users of the internet (Alan’s website has more information on digital literacy). I was surprised that Alan hadn’t met one student in Australia that understands how to do detailed Google searches. You don’t know what you don’t know and there is still a lot I am learning about technology and the web but it’s incumbent on teachers to understand the architecture of information and to ensure students have the skills to analyse information not just search for it.
Google cannot do it but teachers can in the way they ask the question – this is the value add of teachers in today’s world. Alan believes we need to teach by questioning not by teaching. The focus shouldn’t be on the technology but on the problem. How many schools are using technology as a $1000 pencil? If we want to see real change in student learning, then the essential question for school leaders is – what is the process change and what will we do differently (pedagogically) with the technology? In effect we have to re-engineer the whole back end of teaching, to modernise it and refine it as we reflect on student learning. This should not frighten nor over burden teaschers. It should energise them since it gives the profession greater control ove rthis critical process.
I came across a vodcast this week of film executive Peter Guber talking about ‘state of the heart’ not state of the art technology. It resonates with Alan’s argument – technology isn’t the answer but the enabler. How do we build those connections between learner and content, between teacher and student, between family and school?
I think it was the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire who said the question was the foundation of human existence – it’s also the foundation of 21st century schooling.