For goodness sake let’s get computer use in perspective

‘Tairua School boasts no set front or back of the classroom, round communal tables, an abundance of plants and computers, and no artwork to prevent students from distraction.’

If that last part hadn’t been there I would have dismissed the article in Stuff that contained this cultural blasphemy as just another shameless promotion of computers in education.

‘We don’t have a teacher standing at the top,’ says the principal Brendan Fin, ‘and all the students looking in one direction.’

What a thumping great cliché to justify a thumping great cliché of a classroom.

A teacher standing at the top of the class (as Brendan Fin puts it) can be inspiring, challenging, and subtle. If I had to nominate a huge lack in classrooms today it is teachers not being there.

I hope the Tairua community is informed about an OECD report, carried on the BBC website, that says ‘investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.’

‘ … education systems which have invested heavily in information and communications technology have seen no noticeable improvement in Pisa test results for reading, mathematics, or science.’

Brendan Fin is reported below as going to a summit (summit? what a puffed up word) in Singapore for inspiration so he might be interested in the following: ‘If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms.’

‘Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse that those who use them moderately.’

Yes – Brendan went to a summit in Singapore to hear Sugata Mitra of ‘hole in the wall fame’ and Tony Wagner who is one of those two a ’penny computer futurists; and that is the trouble – they look to the future and in doing so overlook the needs of children in the present (by the way, Sugata Mitra’s research has been solidly discredited).

No matter how sophisticated the current understanding of computers and school education, no-one can sensibly predict the various directions computer use in education will take. What we should know, and we should hold on to as something real and solid amidst the ephemeral and flux, is that the fundamentals of children’s learning – if purposes are humanistic and democratic – remain substantially the same.

The irony is that in looking to some future which these people claim they can predict, they are returning to the past with digital knobs on.

The children will end up doing a combination of old style projects and data walls.

The children will enjoy them, but then their parents loved the old style projects when they went to school.

Learning needs shape Brendon – see ATTACK 1, and the teacher needs to inspire, beguile and challenge.

What a description Brendan ‘no artwork to prevent students from distraction.’

A key role for teachers today is to know when computers are distraction.

Yes – projects can involve children, but they rarely challenge children until the teacher has taken them well into the topic.

I’ll give you an idea for nothing: children do their best and most imaginative and creative thinking when computers are not around.

And some further ideas for nothing: The close association of computers with a form of inquiry has led to a kind of learning indistinguishable from old style projects. Children patching internet information as answers to a question no matter how sophisticated the question or how big the issue, or how cooperatively undertaken, is still undistinguished teaching and learning. To make computer learning rich and challenging, I urge teachers to consider carefully my plea to teach, actually teach – teach in a certain way, a holistic way.

To be educationally vital, computer use needs to be led by those who first know the curriculum, at the moment it isn’t being. No matter the curriculum area, the activities for teaching need to be organised into an effective learning sequence: an introduction, a gaining of knowledge, a challenging of flexibility of understanding, and a conclusion. It also needs to have a connectedness to children’s other understandings, their context, and key disciplinary ideas.

The crude dismissal of art as a distraction could well be a new low in education directions. Art is a fundamental technology and a fundamental form of human expression. To relegate it is to relegate our humanity.

Sorry – this was written in 30 minutes, on a Friday night and probably shows it.

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12 Responses to For goodness sake let’s get computer use in perspective

  1. Kelvin says:

    An Auckland reader says: Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself! That’s true – I couldn’t have, but they are my sentiments exactly. Not that that will be a surprise to you! Talk about the emperor’s new clothes – when will these so-called experts see, that, as you say – the kids are just doing projects? The work they do is given value because is it based around IT. The fact that possibly no learning took place seems to be quite overlooked. And in the meantime the boys will play car-chasing games on the computer whenever no-one is looking! Sigh……

  2. Hi Kelvin. I often like reading your perspective on things. I appreciate your experience and ‘straight talking’ commentary.

    I have to admit, though, that I’m wondering if you’ve talked with the Principal quoted and asked for some context to what he said? I’ve not been in this game for long but I’m pretty aware of the mis-quoting that happens when the media interview educators, or anyone for that matter. I’ve also come to appreciate the benefit of being slow to judge when moving from school to school in the itinerant tole I have at the moment. I’ve done a lot of that i the past and found there is often much more depth of pedagogical thinking than we see on the surface!

    For what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts.

    You mention the Pisa results; I wonder whether they are testing the attributes and skills that modern people need to be successful today? Reading and writing are essential, sure, but so too are the abilities for social and emotional intelligence, divergent thinking and other traits and skills contained in our key competencies. Students gain these skills through pedagogical strategies totally enhanced through the use of digital tools, from my experience.

    I wonder, too, whether the extreme shift towards digital tools without the dedicated, focussed and thoughtful actions of teachers is just as alarming as the growing disquiet against the use of digital tools at all! If any profession has learnt to grow and transition through change (which always involve technological breakthroughs I’m assuming) then it has learnt the value of balance. Getting the balance between what we know is effective teaching, combined with the best that digital tools are offering is surely the best way forward.

    Sharing what we can see and know is working is becoming my focus. There are fantastic things happening in schools everywhere – both in traditional and ‘innovative’ ways and I’m hoping we will see educators promoting ideas rather than tearing other approaches down. It doesn’t do our profession any good, least of all helping our communities understand and engage in the discussion.

    I’d love to hear what you think? What approaches of balance have you seen that you think are working and what does that look like in your eyes?

    • Kelvin says:

      Mark: Thanks for your thoughtful response. The art reference in the article was not a quote directly from the principal, but a quality of the room commented on, and probably suggested to reporter. All aspects of learning are in decline in New Zealand, from the Pisa kind of results, to the science and social studies kind of results. The holistic you like is proscribed by the bureaucracies and explains the decline. The shallowness of much computer work is a well-accepted understanding amongst teachers but, of course, up for dispute. All this is not the fault of teachers, I think they’re terrific as people but terribly hamstrung as teachers. They need to be freed, and the holistic being accepted as a legitimate philosophy of education is the way to achieve that. Sorry if I come across as a bit blunt at times. The teacher only mentioned clichés as a philosophy and seeing art as a distraction imbued no confidence and little patience. Computer people often have big ideas but a small philosophy.

  3. I have to add, also, after reading your ‘Attack 1’ post that your description of Holistic learning totally hits the mark with me! And I couldn’t help but think of all the ways that digital tools can be used as part of this. Now THAT’S exciting. The next phase is to develop the pedagogy of teachers towards that.

    And that’s going to take some time from what I’m seeing. Keep up the great work! It all helps.

  4. I don’t think anyone begrudges you having an opinion. In fact I often consider your musings. However, in this particular ‘rant’ I think you miss the mark, both in the tone and the key points you raise. Having visited the school discussed I have seen first hand how the innovative use of technology has and is enhancing the development of the key competencies and providing learners with both real connections and real life context to involve and motivate their wondering. I also consider the principal to be brave in trialling an approach tailored for his community and based on a shared school vision. Your words don’t do justice to his hard work and commitment and quite frankly are quite unprofessional. Perhaps a visit to the school, before taking up the keyboard may, in this case have been useful.

  5. Neil Fraser says:

    Morning Kelvin
    I am disappointed with the tone of this posting which was written at face value of a newspaper article. Having recently visited that school myself and knowing the work done by Brendan and the BOT to further develop the shared vision of the school community, school (all stakeholders) should be commended. The school is situated on the Coromandel, often isolated from the professional support schools and principals in larger urban centres receive, thus leaving such principals vulnerable. And within the NZ rural context, collaboration with neighbouring schools is often halted with the need to keep bums on seats.

    Yes, the article has quoted Brendan, but they are snippets of the interview which do not give the readers the full context. I also wish to add that I do support his view about classrooms – I wonder how many adults would be satisfied to have their work environment over-cluttered with posters, etc on walls, suspended from wire across rooms and even on windows. We often forget that classrooms are “working” (learning) environments of students as well.

    In times of so many changes in education, we need to support principals who are trying to lead change, who often feel isolated in the profession.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Thank-you all the Comments writers, I found what you had to say stimulating and interesting. So much so, I have written a posting that you will find headed: A response to the criticism of the school that saw art as a distraction to computer work. Regards Kelvin

  7. Stephen says:

    Once again Kelvin you sum up the current environment. Yes, yes, yes, the curriculum in many schools has been narrowed to such an extent that all learning areas in the NZ curriculum are no longer planned, assessed or taught. It is years since I visited a school with a quality, planned and assessed Art programme.
    A simple look at the last 8 year maybe explains how this happened. Firstly we had the National Administration Guidelines rewritten with a focus on reading, writing and maths. Apparently the Government cabinet at the time regarded the NZ curriculum document as a load of touchy-feely nonsense and came close to scrapping it altogether. However the curriculum survived but instead we got National Standards. Within 3 or 4 years the damage was complete. Schools were required and forced to focus totally on the basics and that’s what they did. (The current Early Childhood Curriculm is regarded politically in the same light, beware)
    During this period throw into the mix the parasitic fringe dwellers called “consultants and experts” who have seen further opportunity to alter their money making message to the latest fad of “20th Centruy Learners Needs”. Their message usually goes like this:
    – The world is changing, XX% (insert your own guess) of jobs won’t be here in X years.
    – The Internet is growing at such a rate that the “knowledge??” it contains now reaches to Mars XX times and will be soon XXX times.
    – Teachers are now facilitators not knowledge holders.
    – Schools need to embrace this new order of change through “digital leaning” or they aren’t doing their job properly.

    So we now have the 3 Rs being taught through devices in paperless and bookless schools where student choice is seen as being allowed to work through a preset of exemplars, objectives, tasks etc. at their own pace where the learning outcome is carefully managed and fixed. Throw in the MOE realistion that these new digital spaces (MLEs ILEs or whatever) are really cheap to build and with the support of the review office the rort of the full curriculum and wholistic learning is complete.

    Unfortunately what is happening is not well understood by much of the current educational leadership in schools. Blame this on changes to teacher training where once it embraced a critique of some of great educational thinkers like Dewey, A S Neil, Jerome Bruner, Micheal FD Young, Ivan Snook.

    The forces working against a holistic philosophy are huge. Keep up the good work.

  8. Brendan says:

    Hi Kelvin

    By your own admission your posting was rushed and let’s hope that’s the only reason why it came across the way it did. You have a generous following of educators and people alike, all subscribing and comprehending your posts regularly (I’m one of them), however; this posting reeks of ‘bully boy’ tactics, constructed by an author lacking insight.
    The article in question, was a snippet regarding a pilot programme we are currently testing across two classrooms at our school. It is without doubt innovative and questions many preconceived ideas we often hold regarding the physical set up of classroom spaces. Yes, we have invested in diverse technology for these classrooms, however; not in a one-to-one sense that you may be assuming. We have opted for large screen computers that allow small groups of students around one learning hub to ensure our students are collaborating, discussing, thinking critically and creatively based on what they know and what they don’t and ultimately communicating in various forms and forums.
    Your comments regarding the OECD report carried out by the BBC that found maths, reading and writing results haven’t improved as a result of technology are of interest…you have never been a fan of this testing programme, so to refer to it is bizarre, you might as well ask if my National Standards Data has been affected by the use of technology in the classroom and really show your true colours. PISA results! – give me a break Kelvin, who cares about those!!
    As for the comment regarding the art work, like Neil said it didn’t read quite right, as it clearly made you assume we don’t do art anymore. We still do loads of visual art Kelvin, and yes – drama, dance and music are high on our priority list. We simply display our work in art folders and through digital portfolios. What’s disappointing Kelvin, is if you had just taken an additional 10 minutes to check out our school website and looked at the classroom blogs and home page, this posting may have been worded differently, or better yet, not at all. However, I think you may have stirred up a hornet’s nest regarding your naïve comments, which is probably not a bad thing.
    Now I am more than happy to discuss the rationale behind our decision to make these pilot classrooms. So yes, we have striped the walls and ceiling in two classrooms of everything and loaded those with plants along with fit for purpose furniture (please note: I have not mentioned the cliché that is MLE). For far too long our leaning spaces have been a bombardment of images, colour, posters, displays, rules, suggestions and other resources that 99% of the time are there for parent’s acknowledgement only. It shouldn’t be like this, however; it is. These images and resources hang from the ceiling, walls and windows. Piles of stuff staked in corners, on teacher’s desks in cupboards and tables. Everywhere you look there is something telling you what to do and reminding you of what you’ve done. This is distracting!!! No two ways about it. I bet you can tell me the colour of the walls in your office or look out your window for inspiration at times Kelvin, however; the same can’t be said for many classrooms worldwide where teachers are encouraged by external stakeholders to drown the classroom of images, colour, posters, displays, rules, suggestions and other resources.
    You constantly remind us that we need to be creative and holistic in approach to education….well Kelvin, when a school truly attempts to innovate based on action research along with creative and critical thinking, I suggest you get out of our way and don’t distract us with short sighted postings. You’re entitled to an opinion, but ask questions and engage in some form of research before you have a rant.
    I would like to formally invite you to visit our school so you can see first-hand how these classrooms operate allowing you to make a far more intelligent and informed judgment.

    I would like to acknowledge all those educators that have commented in support…God knows this is a tough job at the best times, that shouldn’t be made worse by those who really should know better.

    • Kelvin says:

      Thanks for your comment Brendan. On the basis of what I read in the article, the one that is read by the public, and by other schools, I have no reason to change my view. There was not one innovative idea in what was expressed. My suggestion is to ask the reporter back and present a different set of arguments and ideas, and I will happily re-comment. You presented your programme for comment, and I commented.

      • Brendan says:

        re-comment!! – careful Kelvin you were way off the mark the first time best not repeat the same mistake. I think in future you would be better off engaging in some meaningful dialogue and research before making gross assumptions based on a short article from a local newspaper. Like I said earlier, you should know better!

  9. Roger Young says:

    Years ago it would have been inconceivable for ineffective teaching to be blamed on the chalk.
    ( or in later years to be the fault of whiteboards) However it is becoming quite common for schools to be condemned today because they don’t do enough ‘digital learning’. It is not the hardware that is the problem it’s what it is used for that creates difficulties.
    Tomorrows adults will have to be independent, creative thinkers who can question everything. They will be useless without these qualities no matter what the devices of tomorrow might be using. It s especially important, particularly in primary schools, that creativity is encouraged, thinking skills are developed and we create readers and writers who are critical. These skills are developed with things like art, drama, dance, social studies, nature study, music and the like. If we really want success with national standards this creative area is where the emphasis has lie. Only some of that can happen on ‘digital’ platforms.
    Kelvin is right when he states that digital technology must be led by people who understand the curriculum. All other experts and consultants must stand well clear.

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