Monday, 14 May 2012

You'll Get What You've Always Got?

I’ve recently watched a couple of videos made by primary schools, demonstrating how they used iPads across their schools. I was particularly interested in seeing how the children were using them during a lesson. After watching for a little while, I noticed that many of the apps that were being used were basically digital versions of resources that the teacher would have traditionally used without the iPad or other technologies. For example, a 'whiteboard' that allowed the children to write down a sum and the answer and then to show to others; foundation phase children drawing letters on the screen; children playing matching games; drawing on the screen or reading books. This is not necessarily a criticism, just an observation. After watching, I started to reflect on how I've often seen technology being used by teachers. It reminded me of the experience of working on the 'interactive whiteboard initiative' some 10 years ago across our authority and the relatively rapid take-up by schools and teachers of this technology. Very rarely do I now come across a primary school that doesn't have IWBs across the whole school.

But why did this particular technology take hold in schools so quickly? My belief has been that teachers took to this technology because it basically allowed them to teach the way they had always done (teacher at the front of the class, children looking at the board). Yes, we can make our lesson introductions more 'whizzy' with images, video, web links, simple interactivity and sound, but basically I can still pick up a pen and write on a board as I traditionally did before IWBs. IWBs were not a disruptive technology in the classroom, in my opinion it allowed the status quo to continue, where one technology substituted for another. Technology changed, but the teaching approach didn't. Learning and teaching continued in the same way as previously, relatively unaffected or transformed by the new technology.

I realise that comparing iPads with IWBs is a little unfair as one could be seen as a 'teacher tool' whereas the other is technology placed directly into the hands of the learner, but the idea I feel holds true. Even when technology can be placed in the hands of the learner, in the primary school classroom it is still the case, that it is the teacher who generally directs the learning for the majority of the time and decides how and where the learning takes place and what resources are available for the learner.

Are iPads going to revolutionise learning and teaching as I've heard some people claim? Or perhaps this is the wrong question and we should be asking, are the apps used on the iPad going to help to revolutionise learning and teaching? This is the new technology for schools and the take-up is growing rapidly across our authority and across Wales. I recently talked to an Apple distributor who told me how difficult it is to keep up with the orders for iPads coming from schools. Which means there is a large demand, and like the IWBs, schools, teachers and learners don't seem to feel threatened by the iPad and are excited by the large catalogue of apps available to them. Teachers can plan learning activities utilising the resources (apps) available, hopefully enhancing the activity. The iPad doesn't appear to me to be a disruptive technology to education in the way that it's currently being used by most schools. Therefore like the IWB, the status quo continues in a class, we are substituting one technology for another. Learning and teaching carries on in a similar way as before, but now in a classroom that has bright, glossy 'things' instead of the older, heavier, black or grey 'things'.

It reminds me of the saying: "If you do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."

Interestingly, Janet Wozniak from Apple recently spoke at the Learning Through Technology conference. According to this article in the TES she commented that schools should be wary of substitution - doing the things they have always done but channeled into technology such as the iPad - as this added nothing to teaching and cost more. 

With my local authority hat on I think it's time to find and highlight those examples of teachers and schools from around the world who are truly transforming educational with technology. Transformation which is based on sound educational research.