Gerald Haigh’s Reflections on Transformation within Education


The following is a guest post by Gerald Haigh.

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‘My friend says she went to Ypres Castle,’ said someone the dance we were at the other day. ‘But surely there’s no castle at Ypres because everything really old was flattened in the Great War?’

So out comes my Windows phone, and I establish that, yes, there is an Ypres Castle, but it’s in Rye, Sussex, not Ypres, Belgium. Its name derives from John d’Ypres, who owned the castle in the early fifteenth century.

That kind of thing, I guess, happens all the time. There are people who watch TV with phone in hand constantly filling in background details – ‘He got an Oscar nomination for that! Not sure Dan Snow is quite right there, let me see…. ‘

‘For crying out loud, shut up will you?’

I call that,

‘Self-directed learning with peer group feedback, facilitated by the appropriate use of handheld technology.’

My wife calls it various other things.

Ypres CastleImage from Pictures of England

For a long time now, technology has helped teachers and students to do the things they have always done – instruct, listen, question, use resources, plan, set work, complete and mark it and handle the resulting assessments.

Now, though, there’s an increasing insistence that the true destiny of educational technology is to be much more than the teacher’s useful friend, another tool among many. The proper role of technology, says this view, is to enable teachers and school leaders to achieve the kind of transformation of learning that many have advocated for decades – a shift towards ‘hands-off’ teaching, with students as independent learners and teacher as ‘the guide on the side’.

Without technology that style of pedagogy is difficult to achieve – students need to be able to search a wealth of resources, collaborate freely with peers and communicate easily with teachers and available experts. At the same time, crucially, the teacher must be in touch with what’s happening, monitoring work, questioning, always moving individuals on with their learning. Imagine doing all that in a tech-free classroom, armed with a selection of information and text books, a blackboard and a school library down the corridor. I, and many of my contemporaries tried it and, frankly, even the best of us were not nearly as successful as we pretended even to ourselves.

But move on a little in time, add handheld, web-enabled devices and a suite of cloud-based creative and collaborative technologies. (Surface or other Windows tablets plus Office 365 for the sake of argument) and the game has changed. All of things that were difficult – access to resources, collaboration, communication – are now within reach.

WIN13_Alberto_Asus_01

But what’s not so easy, of course is achieving the necessary culture change in classrooms across the school, led from the top corridor. A recent series of tweets in which a teacher expresses her feelings at being unable to convince colleagues of the value of tablets in her teaching is frustrating to read. Twitter friends weigh in with encouragement and advice, but the bottom line, I suppose, is that in the end she’ll have to plug away in the hope and expectation that others will gradually come round. It’s a very familiar story.

So what might pick up the pace? The best results come when there’s commitment from the top and also growth from the roots. Shortly, Microsoft will release a video case study, supported by a blog here, describing the Welsh Government’s commitment to the digital classroom, with the ‘Hwb+’ platform supported by Microsoft and ‘Learning Possibilities’. It will show clearly the importance of that ‘top-down, bottom-up’ approach to the transformation of learning, and, significantly, see the children playing their part. One senior teacher in our study describes the eye-opening experience of seeing Year Six children leading a CPD session for his staff, and we know that across the UK as a whole the role of student digital leaders continues to expand beyond low level tech support into true digital leadership.

All of that was in my mind when I read a thought-provoking blog by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of learning technology in the Plymouth Institute of Education at Plymouth University.

The title is ‘Learner 2.0’ by which he means the generation of learners who have grown up with technology – ‘younger than the internet and mobile phones….’

His argument, assuming I’ve read it correctly is that what we see as ‘transformed’ learning – radical, boldly different from everything we’ve come to see as normal – is to the Learner 2.0 the obvious way to learn.

‘”New learners”, writes Steve, ‘Are more self directed, and they are better equipped to capture information with their digital tools. They tend to be more reliant on the feedback from their peers, and they are more inclined to collaborate with each other. In short, they are networked learners. Most significantly, they are more oriented to becoming the nodes of their own production.’

Please read Steve’s blog, and follow some of the links that he provides to broaden his argument.

Steve Wheeler – Meet Learner 2.0

Steve Wheeler works in higher education, but the same surely applies at all levels from Primary onwards. If he is right – and he articulates the views of many in technology-savvy schools and colleges, as well as those technology industry leaders who have learning at the heart of their thinking – then the final decisive push towards real culture change in schools may ultimately be driven by students. Already we hear of them making comparisons and asking questions – ‘Why are we doing it like this? In Mr X’s lessons we work together on our tablets.’

Surface 3-3

Make no mistake; when this bandwagon really gets moving, its destination will be unforeseeable. Everything we now take for granted about schools – timetables, groupings, buildings, the need for exams, the definition of ‘teacher’, the relationships between home, school and employment, our understanding of the word ‘school’ itself, all will be up for grabs. And if we think that’s all too much to take on board, then Learner 2.0 is ready to push us along.


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