New Tools Ebook chapter 1

The first chapter from a coming Ebook on what might happen if we trust teachers and seek out the delights of play and collaborative learning with new tools.

New Tools for Learning Chapter 1

A blueprint for ICT as it stops being a subject and becomes a transformational tool for learning.

“But as the sailors continued north they discovered to their horror that they had misgauged their longitude near the Scilly Isles …on that foggy night of October 22nd 1707 the Scillies became unmarked tombstones for two thousand of Sir Clowdisley’s troops”.

Longitude Dava Sobel ©Fourth Estate London 1995

Chapter 1 Finding our digital longitude
Let’s call it the Moses effect — that’s what we are suffering from at present — it’s where you get to see the promised land but you don’t actually get to go there. From southern Malaysia’s information corridor to the virtual schools of Silicon Valley in the USA and from Finland to Soweto we are learning slowly and painfully that information technology investment to the power of ten doesn’t guarantee learning. There is something of great promise in the educational deployment of IT (or ICT as it is called in the UK) but we can’t quite isolate the vital ingredients.

Yet most education systems in the world (rich and poor) have rushed to embrace ICT in the form of computers and internet connection and make it part of the curriculum. Few have thought sufficiently how it will fit and how it will help students to learn and understand. The engine driving the development is the fact (or the fear) that everybody else is doing it. We hope that our collective learning curves will be shorter in the information age but the great danger is that we have too much communication and too little understanding. This book looks at what’s happening now in the year 2005 in the role of ICT and learning and it suggests ways in which we can make the most of these new tools.

We must learn from our recent history and make some brave decisions on our future paths if we are to make the most of our new opportunities to meet our individual and global learning needs. It is also a time to remember the mythical characteristics of Janus credited with the ability to look both ways — we can only move forward with new tools in learning if we remember to bring with us the lessons learned from the past. To this end our story concerns the slate, the blackboard and the television as much as it does the computer and the Internet. Information and Communication Technology had struck when the first politician had their picture taken in front of a computer rather than a bookshelf. It’s a good time to be an ICT advisor and a bad time to be a librarian — not the best way to make the most of learning opportunities for all learners.

Or if you prefer historic metaphors. There is a ship far out at sea — it knows it’s a long way out but it’s lost. Longitude, that second fix on position is still sixty years from discovery. Without it no captain can know with certainty the position of his craft and many ships will flounder and sink until a timepiece is built that will work accurately at sea. In one sense, we live in similar times technology allows learners to cover great distance at a single mouse click — we can copy and paste with ease and send messages to flit the globe — but often we are not sure where we are or what to do with what we have found. Even more importantly, we also have no clear idea of where we are going, what we might achieve and how learning can be re—ignited throughout life by the creative deployment of these media rich tools in the classroom, home and workplace. We are missing a key reference point — a way of marking out the new territory so that we may occupy or move through it with purpose and clarity. Perhaps learning styles and accelerated learning techniques may well prove the longitude we seek to fix educational technology accurately in its place as learning catalyst.

We are a little lost as to how to make the most of the new tools we have. Worse still, many technocrats and hardware manufacturers would have us look in the wrong direction for an answer. For the imminent learning revolution will come not from any particular technology but from a blend of new learning approaches informed by brain research, developments in learning style analysis and findings in clinical psychology. In the next ten years we will learn with increasing certainty how to make learning stick. I believe ICT will be a profound tool within these developments only if we rethink its use in schools and move it quickly from subject to tool and medium in the learning environment.

The use of ICT in all its forms will have a dramatic and catalytic role to play in the learning revolution — especially as we learn more about subtle interplay between hearing, seeing and doing in the learning process. Yet for the moment we are in real danger of confusing the catalyst with the effect and whilst our gaze remains fixed on the technology the dramatic learning opportunities it might assist may well pass us by. It’s time to stop enshrining and elevating the technology and focus on the learning. In five years time we will consider our current practice of creating computer rooms as bizarre as if the Victorians had created a specialist shrine for the use of the slate.

This is also a time of too much individual cleverness and too many “foolish” organisations – the challenge is to ensure schools are more than 12 months smart. That the learning and achievement of one year is available as a reference and an inspiration in subsequent years. It is a time of illusory technical promise and insufficient focus on the true fulcrums for learning. Our perceptions for the deployment of technology as an aid to learning are still too computer centric — we ignore the potential of overhead projectors, fax machines and telephones in a headlong dash to provide multiple connected computers and interactive whiteboards. We must continue to put environment first, technology second. For a poor computer environment with computers is still a poor environment for learning.

Just because something is desirable it doesn’t mean it will happen. Individual learners, teachers and parents want to share and annotate good practice but the “combination timebomb” of inertia, fear and overload usually intervene and prevent it. To further restrict the spread of good practice we have for many years persisted with an inspection mechanism in schools which has been judgmental and debilitating and doesn’t allow the only outcome which would justify the process, the tangible sharing and celebrating of good practice. The law of information proximity informs us that what we share locally is often more valuable and less diverting than that which exists elsewhere. The age of the shared folder and the intranet is dawning and all schools should have the right and the time to develop their vocabulary of expectation as to what they want their local information sharing and celebrating to look like in electronic terms. Ten, twenty and even thirty years ago every school in the land produced a school magazine on the Banda Spirit duplicator or the photocopier. Many adults hold fond memories of the time their writing, their picture or their artwork appeared in the publication. Now it seems that fewer schools manage to produce the simplest such magazine – too much technology, too little communication. The modern day equivalent is often a website labelled ‘under construction’.

Of course this is not the whole story – some schools are pioneering new ways of sharing the learning recipe within and beyond the school building and the school day. The challenge now is for us all to share the things that work –¬¬ to tap into the bigger philanthropic brain that the internet can be – for us all to get smarter – from Soweto to Shropshire – at using the new tools.

Cartoon here of banda banda.jpg

Switch on Delight
We also live at a wonderfully challenging time — we bisect millennia and invent tools of great potential which promise much delight. Many individual teachers and learners are providing breakthrough combinations of learning approaches, achieving a synergy between what works for learners and what the reinforcement and enrichment, the creative use of new technology can provide. There is also a strong whiff of missed opportunity in the air. Here in the early twenty first century as we look towards revolutions in the development of learning opportunities, we see more hoop-jumping and less creativity. Instead of deciding how new tools can make learning more delightful, teachers are overburdened with the negative undertow of excessive administration, testing and inspection. The ships of learning enlightenment lay beached on the shore of “otherwise engaged”.

To find our digital longitude we will need not one single breakthrough but the “guided reinvention of knowledge” (Gordon Wells 1981). Find the human creative spark and build around it. In the past, the development of ICT in schools was often driven by the technocrats — those who perceive an intrinsic value and potential within the technology to make a difference for learners. The second phase of development is now starting to yield translators, visionary individuals — those who can see the power of technology and start to map it to the needs of the subject and the learning. For every powerful application of a new tool in learning search out the human dimension for that is what makes it tick and guarantees its persistence. Behind every new technological breakthough — cherchez the human dimensions. Each successful deployment of ICT in our schools hinges around a human mediation and intervention. From the speaking word processors to the multimedia creation little occurs to make a difference without a human intervention. For all of us the ultimate learning resource is another human being and they, as yet, do not come with plugs attached.

No matter where they are in the world – schools that can build on the firmament of learning first and technology as catalyst may well inherit the future.

Schools that understand that learning is frequently the consequence of the inspiration provided by another person, and that learning can be expressed powerfully through the use of modern media, are schools equipped to keep a balanced perspective on the adoption and integration of learning technologies.

For too long ICT has been the preserve of computer advisors and computer companies with large totemic size stands at yearly glut spending extravaganzas like the BETT exhibition in the UK. Even government advisers with successful media backgrounds are not best placed to advise on the subtle interplay which must be invented afresh in each classroom as multimedia learning opportunities grow beyond the notional and into the mainstream.

Modern classrooms are still essentially constructed using a blueprint from Victorian times. But which group of people are best placed to design the classrooms of tomorrow? Much has been learnt over recent times about the impact of environment upon learning — and there is still more to learn. The choice of how space is used, movement, storage, natural light, can each avoid problems commonly experienced even in quite recently constructed school buildings. The environment must reflect our developing understanding of how people best learn and how that learning is best organised. For teachers, the classroom of the future is the one they will teach in tomorrow. For learners, their life chances will be influenced by where and how they learn. Both deserve a say in the design of the classroom of the future.

Finding our longitude is about valuing and sharing individual creativity — and the local ‘philanthropic will’ to make things better for others.

“In recent times in the UK, the need for supporting teachers to make use of the considerable bank of ICT resources placed in schools was expressed through a mass training scheme (the New Opportunities Fund ICT training scheme — a £230 million venture). Teachers would repeat lessons designed by other practitioners in order to get a certificate. This scheme aimed to put the ideas of the few into the heads of the many, when what was needed was precisely the reverse. Each of us needs to find our own point of access with the learning potential of these new tools.

At times new tools may be the creation of a school radio station (see chapter 3). For others, it will be the creation of a text messaging service for parents on children’s weekly progress. If both these pathways are documented, annotated and shared then others will follow and improve the provision – the whole group has the potential to get smarter.

Online sharing of ideas in small groups is one of the most profound contribution so far to make things better and more manageable for teachers. Remember our right to be different — homogenisation only really works for milk.

– illustration?create.jpg
only create …the simple joy of making
stories –films – drawing….living in the digital age

One of the most important things is to use tools to help students and teachers make something to ensure the diet of ICT goes beyond copy, paste and adapt. We will look at ideas from flicker books and Plasticine Shakespeare to schools running their own radio stations(see chapters 3 and 4). At times our skills focus too heavily in proscribed curricular for the teaching of something which is a tool not a subject however, this will change for the creative use of ICT is now planted and growing naturally within subject areas. Technologies of the classroom will continue to flex and change faster than it can be categorized. ICT won’t stay still long enough to have a subject built around it – so lets wise up to the fact that we are dealing with a profound set of tools.

To see the interconnectedness of knowledge, the cross-curricular objectives of many past curriculum designers are no longer an aspiration but an inevitability. Learners around the world cannot but benefit as long as we get it right.

One of the key maxims for accelerated learning is to create an environment with high challenge and low threat. This concept should serve to underpin the design and deployment of ICT tasks in schools. For it is clear that too much use of ICT for the ‘sake of it’ using clip art and wizards can take children away from the creative surge and into the doldrums of low challenge and even lower expectation. Witness the ‘keeping them quiet work’ which has come to blight the early use of ICT in schools. Without creativity, the much—heralded motivation students display when using ICT will be short lived as home access to technology grows, school use without the key ingredient of creativity will become jaded. The simplest way to provide this is to get the students making things and sharing them with a local audience for free over already established school networks.

Similarly, schools leading the field must take up the challenge of continued development and innovation with new learning in mind. This involves the environment, the toolsets and activities of instruction. Restaurants look at workflow and environment design and development at six monthly intervals —schools do the same only once each generation — or so it seems.

So we look to the deployment of new tools in a very old dispensation called school. We will be wise to expect some tectonic tension as the plates move once more and also to witness some unbelievable opportunities to change things for the better that must be seized before they pass us by.

It’s time for us all ‘to find our own religion’ and point of access for new tools for we are moving beyond blind faith towards a productive journey where teachers with their own space, time and tools will find their own point of access.

The fulcrums of learning
To move forward, we must not celebrate the technology but welcome the opportunity to work more productively with a variety of learning strengths and needs for learners of all abilities, and families of every social status.

New tools must also be deployed to encourage purposeful talk about what is being learned. Make no mistake — no matter how hard we avoid it because it is difficult to measure — the fulcrums for learning are the mouth and ears. In addition, we have the opportunity to make learning social – with the help of tools like classroom data projectors, for if there is a world of information out there it shouldn’t be constrained within a 13 inch window. Sound—the poor relation because in the past it’s been hard to manage and mark—is also set to come centre stage. In reality, all ICT has given us so far is dumb text on screen for the last twenty years. The rise of the MP3 sound file, perfectly fit for purpose in carrying good quality sound across the wire, may change that forever. Put another way — many schools have hundred thousand pound networks running Office software in silence. Why? Schools are not offices? Our paradigm for the use of ICT in schools is one built on the office which was in turn built on the typing pool — a simple manufactury of words. It no longer fits or suits our needs and it’s time for a look elsewhere for our models of technology integration.

who pays and who learns?
Many poorer families will have no direct access to the tools of email and internet access for themselves. Financial exclusion is serious, yet conceptual exclusion is much more pernicious — precious moments of exploration and creative use of new tools are more likely to happen like the seeds of reading in the home or the social group rather than in school.

In one sense we are behind the Victorians in their commitment to universal access. Their creation of lending libraries and learning co—operatives displayed a more practical grasp about building from the core concept of universal access ideas into physical structures which changed lives. Places where all could apply for membership and find a book tied into the aspirations of even the poorest and more importantly it was culturally acceptable to be part of the movement. Local libraries and City Learning Centres are starting to provide alternative places for internet access.

Companies with little pedagogic knowledge and no altruistic intent are currently attempting to drive the technological revolution in learning or at least standing between schools and communities in their attempt to drive this revolution forwards. (first part of paragraph a possible strapline for the cover?)

Let’s look one last time at the historical backdrop to our times. Our gaze might fall on the reflected wisdoms of 10,000 years technological development and across many cultures. At each point of focus we would see dramatic examples of the visual arts, music and emergent science. Often this learning was underpinned and memorized in the oral tradition and extended by the weaving of a narrative skein that kept it together and allowed it to be passed on.

We are starting to see with increasing clarity that these ancient and successful methods worked in part by providing a fast track path to long—term memory by pole bridging between different parts of the brain and by accessing the subconscious mind. Deep within the brains of our ancestors connections were made. By evoking an emotional response to words, pictures, music and rhythm in the limbic system of their brain focussed, paid attention, made a connection and the roots of memory started to grow in the limbic system — (the clearing house in the mid brain footnote?)

Cartoon here of mediaeval man at multimedia minds eye show
And modern man coming from the cinema sixpence but none the richer? Medieval.jpg

For many learners, the past wisdoms of true multimedia learning have been forgotten in learning approaches that are too often silent, and dependent on text alone to convey meaning. New understanding and new tools will give us the opportunity to adjust the diet according to need. It is time to look afresh at the variety of tools available and for schools to decide where ICT fits in with their agenda as a tool for teachers and learners. Lozanov, the developer of the first accelerated learning approaches, discovered the unique way in which sound may alter mood and assist learning and we now have the option to ally sound and image.

“Stop implementing technology in our schools – it doesn’t work instead let’s redefine literacy and implement that.”
David Warlick Glasgow September 2004

Visualisation, the personal and internal mind’s eye masterpiece that each of us presents as our own private show is not replicable by anything screen generated. Now imagine walking through the doors and into the school of the future – some bubbly Bach plays on the school surround sound system and today’s learning menu floats holgraphically in the middle distance as your mentor walks towards you with a greeting. For the ultimate learning resource is another person — technology will not change this but it will help to make human resources available over distance and time. The rest of this book concerns practical ways in which we can move forward and find our personal longitude where accelerated learning meets ICT in an increasingly digital world.

John Davitt


3 Responses to New Tools Ebook chapter 1

  1. jeff says:

    I feel a lot more men and women will need to read this, quite great info.

  2. This site was shown to me by my friend I have been searching for this topic for a while thanks!

  3. I find myself coming back here a lot to read. I have learned many new things here. Excellent blog post !

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