The following is a guest post written by Gerald Haigh.
I think I may have mentioned before the blog posts by Lisa Nielsen, (@InnovativeEdu) a Director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning, who works with schools and teachers in New York City. Her blog, ‘The Innovative Educator’, promotes her personal views, which means it is, at times, refreshingly frank.
So when I read her, ‘Is EdTech Really a Waste? 8 Lessons for the Uninformed’, dated 3 April this year, I laughed out loud.
The post was provoked by an interview in ‘The Australian’ newspaper with John Vallance, headmaster of Sydney Grammar School. Mr Vallance’s message is that computers in school are, quote, ‘a scandalous waste of money.’
Lisa Nielsen, like so many who promote technology in schools, has undoubtedly encountered views like that many times and she was certainly ready for Mr Vallance. She dismantles Mr Vallance’s objections, taking his main points – eight in all – and pulls no punches, explaining, in straightforward New York style, why they are wrong.
More importantly, though, as her demolition job progresses, she recognises the need to argue the alternative view, and provides a series of ‘read this’ links which lead to more detailed positive posts. But that’s enough from me. You must now read the blog post for yourself:
As you read it, you may reflect, as I did, that John Vallance is not alone in this world. He is an extreme case, but there are many others who sit at various points on a spectrum of doubt and denial. Often, to be fair, it’s more a matter of caution than of outright rejection. Over time, hasty and ill-considered innovations – mass purchase of tablets with little notion of how to use them, for example – have resulted in high profile failure and the kind of damaging headlines that no headteacher ever wants to risk for their own school. Add in all of the problems caused by a shrinking budget and it’s not altogether surprising that some leaders and teachers, especially in successful schools, have headed for a bunker labelled, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
The sad thing about this, of course, cogently expressed by Lisa Nielsen is that, properly handled, technology is not the problem but the solution. That certainly was the message coming from ‘FlipConUK 2016’, a recent conference on flipped learning held at Shireland Collegiate Academy, a Microsoft Showcase School in Sandwell. (There will be fuller account of ‘FlipConUK 2016’ in the May edition of #TheFeed). At that Conference it was good to observe the way that delegates saw how Microsoft technologies such as OneNote and OfficeMix – familiar, integrated, cost-effective, efficient – could make their work more rewarding and engaging. Office Mix, especially, was new to many teachers and a number said they couldn’t wait to get back to school and put it into action. The sheer accessibility and familiarity of Office Mix make it a real winner. As Microsoft Global Product Manager Jim Federico said at FlipCon,
‘There are one point four billion PowerPoint users in the world and Office Mix requires no new skill. It just works in the way you expect it to work.’
All the same, it’s still true that some would be innovative teachers are working in a climate of caution and prudence, a point I raised at FlipCon with Sir Mark Grundy, head of Shireland Collegiate Academy. He, looking well ahead, as always, suggested that what seem now to be barriers may actually turn out be drivers of new thinking. A period of austerity, perhaps with bigger teaching groups, could cause heads and teachers to face up to the inevitability of change, and say,
‘Unless we do things differently, we are not going to cope’.
That’s quite a thought; historically, though, is it not true that much innovation and change has emerged from crisis and adversity?