Saturday, 6 May 2017

Soul to Human Soul, Mind to Human Mind

The Revenge of Grumpy Luddites

Peter Lyons, writing in the NZ Herald, is a "manual teacher" of Economics at St Peters College, in Auckland.  He is a grumpy Luddite.

We will allow Peter to introduce himself and his background:
I have banned the use of electronic devices in my classroom. Maybe I have become a grumpy old teacher unwilling to evolve with the times but I don't think so.  I was a grumpy young teacher. By making my classroom device free I am following intuition which has generally served me well in my lengthy undistinguished teaching career.

In lessons when I want the students to use their devices I ask them to reach into their bags and pull them out.  But I have no desire to spend my teaching day staring at a sea of young people staring at screens. I can have this experience in any cafe, mall, bus, train or outdoor area.  I am not anti-technology. Some of my best friends have cell phones. Technology has been a life changer for me as a partially sighted person.
We disclose our pre-commitments to the issue of e-technology in school classrooms: we believe it to be a distracting fad, seized upon by second rate academics and schools, as a false substitute for genuine teaching.
 Many schools in New Zealand are struggling.  It's so easy for school boards, management, and teaching staff to get sucked into the snake oil salesmen telling them that the key missing capability--a lacuna which, once addressed, will put all things to right--is internet based technology in the class rooms.

We have seen endless presentations about the "classroom of the future", "wired education", "global electronic education interface", blah, blah, blah.  In fact, unless IT is made (from the outset) a servant, a backroom servant, rather than a master, it will destroy good, quality teaching, and learning.

Back to our grumpy Luddite:
I can appreciate the value of technology in teaching for research, simulations, video clips, reduced paperwork, sharing resources and keeping kids busy.  My concerns about the unbridled use of technology in the classroom are varied. Several years ago our school became an iPad school.  This was phased in from Year 7. As a teacher of senior classes I have watched and listened with dismay as this tide has headed towards me.

Issues include student forgetting or losing their device, devices not being charged, the unreliability of access to the intranet or internet.  But my overriding concern is that the required use of these devices locks a teacher into a certain mode of teaching.  [Emphasis, ours]
We also add--it locks pupils into a "certain mode of learning", where there is little or no framework for critical evaluation of self, information, colleagues, or teacher.  In other words, for students, this "certain mode" of learning is "learning without thinking".
The use of technology in the classroom has become the mantra for quality teaching.  Those with reservations are regarded as out of touch or Luddites. Their concerns are lightly dismissed. I would like to share some of mine.
  • The use of endless PowerPoint presentations and video clips can lead to lazy teaching and disinterested students. 
  • Teachers can replay the same power points each year. This reduces creativity and innovation in presentation. 
  • Even more bizarre is when students are required to manually copy PowerPoint presentations.
  • Anecdotally some students have stated they prefer teachers to chalk and talk which involves teachers building up notes on the whiteboard as they discuss the content. Students find this approach refreshing after endless electronic presentations.
  • The use of devices by students also provides considerable scope for distraction in the classroom. 
  • It may be a weird aberration but I have found some students would rather watch Manchester United play Liverpool on their device than listen to me expound the joys and intricacies of marginal analysis in Economics.
The critical, essential factor is students being taught how to think meaningfully and critically about every subject in the curriculum.  "Wired" education does the opposite.  It suppresses both meaning and critical evaluation.  In other words, "wired" education dumbs down knowledge and learning.  Maybe that's the reason the government education system has embraced it so enthusiastically.

Interestingly, whilst (dumb) private schools were early adopters of "technology) in their schools, now, not so much, it seems.
In the 1990s a number of private schools made a big deal about requiring the use of laptops in their classrooms.  They were presenting themselves as cutting edge in the use of technology in education. I was training commerce teachers at the time.

I have a distinct memory of sitting at the back of a classroom in a top school observing a student teacher present a lesson.  The class was silent with their laptops in front of them playing a wide variety of interesting games. None was related to the actual subject. Many of these top schools eventually phased out the compulsory use of laptops.
The correct approach to "wired education" is to hold it as servant, not master.  When slide rules and calculators came along they were helpful tools to the study and use of mathematics, in the same way that spirit levels were helpful to construction when they became widely available.  The worst possible aberration--which is the one many dumb schools have adopted--is to believe that all education and learning must now be structured around Google and Facebook.
This is not to deny that technology has huge offerings to teaching and the education process particularly in the areas of research and wider communication. But it is just a tool and it is only a tool.  It should not be the overriding dictator of the learning process in a classroom. 
The tech zealots in education need to be reined in by the grumpy Luddites.

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