Educating in Nature

Ch 10 On an appropriate classroom

As already mentioned technology is beginning to reshape our approach to education but mostly it is being perceived as motivational, using the web technologies students already use to interest them in the prevailing curriculum. However consideration of the technologies together with previously-mentioned criticisms begins to widen the opening into a door to real education. It is therefore appropriate to consider these technologies from an educational standpoint, how can we improve education by using technology? And the answer to this is far more than improving motivation.

In society what form of communication do we now use the most? Computer through the use of the internet, and mobile phones. Why can't education recognise this and begin to embrace the use of computers? It is necessary to consider mobile phones in education, but let's start with computers. Of course compared to textbooks computers are far more expensive, but there is one important notion that computer usage in the classroom can do - it could change the classroom into a legitimate comparison of the office. A traditional classroom of teacher delivering to students is vastly different to the world of work - office or otherwise, however a classroom where students are connected wifi looks little different from work. And what is so significant about such a wifi classroom is that it removes the boundaries and restriction to learning of the traditional classroom. In the traditional classroom the teacher is limited by the textbook. Recognising that students work at different paces I always tried to keep a stock of different texts by me so that if students finished I always had work for them. This is difficult to manage. It was one of my maxims that students always needed work, it was not acceptable to me to ask a student to wait for the rest of the class. At times I even had students working on their own projects, so that when they finished the classwork they continued with their own work. This enabled classroom management but I am not sure how valid it was. This was however always teacher-centred, teaching the new skill in class setting work on it and then setting different tasks for the student to do based on what materials were available. Resources were always a limitation, paying for books.

But effectively for students the internet could be seen as an infinite resource. There is no necessity to be limited by the availability of texts. Let's consider a teacher-centred use of the internet starting from my own subject - maths. I might begin with an explanation on the board, whiteboard preferably so that the example could be prepared beforehand and used repeatedly with different groups over the years. I would have onsite references, with examples and perhaps different explanations - although that would confuse, and further exercises of my own or elsewhere on the net. Perhaps such resources could be stored in Diigo or some other online bookmark setup. The students would be asked to work through different exercises in order.

If there were appropriate resources made available - not created by the teacher as there is no time, such a lesson plan would work and would be an improvement, but in truth would be little different from the current lesson approaches. There would be gains however. A motivated student would not be held back by the speed of other students in the class, this compares favourably with current mixed ability approaches where students continually seek teacher time - often making lessons unmanageable when you factor in poor discipline. In teacher-centred classrooms there is often another factor, even well-motivated students seek teacher time. The "group of peers" nature of the classroom tends to want them to work with the teacher rather than race ahead individually. I contend that this is because the emphasis is not on autonomous mastery, even the well-motivated students are seeking direction from the teacher. In older students this is continually tied in with the exams, they are continually referencing their work to the exams and most teachers have experience with exams and to a greater or lesser extent determine lesson content by the exams.

And with less-motivated students who know they will fail exams, the lack of teacher control in the classroom, individualised learning as opposed to class teaching, means they have greater chance for disruption. And a greater tool for disruptive behaviour - the computer and internet. This disruptive behaviour would only be worthwhile if the disruption gains the teacher's attention - a teacher-centred approach leads to the need for the teacher to be disrupted. Ultimately no change, just a different set of disruptive problems.

This is because the reference is still the exams, and the control of the learning does nto belong to the student - autonomous mastery.

Let us examine the workplace. How many workplace activities last 45 minutes and you move onto something new? It is ongoing. A boss might assign a task, and the employee would be expected to carry out this task without further instruction. The employee might be asked to work on a project either individually or collaboratively, and how they shine (individually or collaboratively) is part of the career development and financial reward. Whilst it is not complete autonomous mastery there is a strong element. In theory such autonomous mastery could be the process in school. When I keep talking about disruption, that seems a foolish thing to say. But if there are no exams and all assessment is carried out by the teacher, there is strong motivation for most students to involve themselves in their work. It would not be perfect especially for those schools where students bring a lot of baggage to school. Strategies will still be needed to deal with the ill-discipline that would be caused but for the majority learning would be practical - as opposed to now where the minority are taught to exam success without any requirement for teacher engagement.

Careful consideration of the relationship between the coursework or project work and the processes that are sought to be involved is an important area of research before any such change could be implemented. In the preface I spoke of this work as being a vision, there are many links to be made. Industry acceptance of processes and the quality portfolio from the teacher, educational research into how these quality processes can best be brought out of the students, and appropriate information at all levels, business parents and students, of what the changes would mean in terms of jobs as well as curriculum ie if it remains the same that a good quality portfolio is not recognised by the employer as a job credential. This basically requires an approach of educational integration at all levels - no easy matter. And unlikely to happen with the apparent current framework of the corporate paradigm.

So what is then likely to happen? A continuation of the current knee-jerk approach to educational change. Take what is happening with education change with regards to technology now. Many people are discussing their involvement with education and technology, usually on the internet. One person develops something useful, and people talk about it. Management thinks that would be a good idea, and before you know it it has been implemented. Or rather management issues a dictum that it will be done, and then teacher are dragged screaming into their usage - not because they disagree but because they know it needs training to do well. They know technology requires good support staff, and they know how often their lessons have been ruined because of equipment failure.

Here is an example of a technology issue, it happened yesterday in private tuition. I was teaching 2nd language English and had just found a site which had fairy stories that the students could read and then the computer read the words highlighting each in turn. A niuce resource for students to practice at home on their own. I was working on one computer and this worked fine, but in the tuition I was using a different computer - I was using a different browser!! I opened the browser, and the computer wouldn't read it. So I faffed around for a while and gave up. Disruption, lack of confidence in the teacher, you name it. I knee-jerked the introduction, I liked the site and introduced it without checking it out more.

Now I know a bit about what I am doing as previously referred to, what about the teachers who have less confidence? Throw them into the deep end and they feel their failure. I failed as a professional computer programmer in business for about 18 months before turning to childcare and then teaching. In that time as a programmer I was given time to learn what was happening before I was asked to do anything meaningful. In teaching there is no such time so knee-jerking is the rule and teachers are sick of it. I certainly was. And I was fed up with all the people promoting their own bandwagons, as people were also probably fed up with me and my bandwagons. Knee-jerk! Knee-jerk! Knee-jerk!

And then new young people in education wonder why their changes are not implemented. And Web 2.0 and even 3.0 are going that way. Some people are championing the web 2.0 teacher revolution, and more sensible teachers trying to say slow down make the implementation educationally sound but careerists in management see promotion and knee-jerk the start of more implementation failure.

Who am I kidding? Knee-jerk will happen, more computing will be introduced, many teachers will guess what to do, make mistakes and cover up, and the when they realise all the money spent still has the same problems they will blame the teachers. Why bother? Cos I have to!!!

Despite all this my vision is a wifi classroom of autonomous mastery working on projects that will develop quality process that will be assessed by teachers through a quality portfolio that will become a meaningful reference in the workplace. And now we need to consider processes and competences.