Saturday, July 14, 2012

Response to ABC Radio National Discussion on Computing and Literacy

Below is the response I gave to the radio transcript of a discussion around 'Computers and Literacy' given by a Brisbane teacher on ABC Radio National. I hope it doesn't read like I'm pontificating, but as it is very close to my area of study and my first paper is 'In Press' I felt obliged to respond. What with the protracted process of publication and the recent arrival of mini-me #2 it has been a long time between mentions of my research in this blog.

There are several aspects of Michael Callanan's discussion I agree with and a few I disagree with. Perhaps more importantly some points need to be expanded upon.

Michael in correct in stating that there is no unequivocal evidence linking computers with student performance. Hence there is all the more reason to perform further research. To this end the University of Wollongong is undertaking a massive study on behalf of the NSW Government looking at the deployment of the Digital Education Revolution in their schools. Similarly, myself and the University of Sydney are analysing the effects of the deployment in Sydney Catholic schools.

However, what is immediately apparent is that the wrong questions and suggested correlations are being stated. As Fullan (2011) remarks: “the notion that having a laptop computer or hand-held device for every student will make her or him smarter, or even more knowledgeable is pedagogically vapid…without pedagogy in the driver’s seat there is growing evidence that technology is better at driving us to distraction, and that the digital world of the child is detached from the world of the school”. Following on from Michael Callanan’s remarks on fetishism, it is not simply about having computers but rather what is done with them in the pedagogy - the art and science of teaching.
Expanding on Michael’s discussion, investment should not only be made in infrastructure but also in professional development and training. Importantly, there has to be a buy-in by ALL teachers (spread across the spectrum, labeled somewhat crudely by Rogers (1962) from ‘Innovators’ to ‘Laggards’). Teachers have a ‘moral imperative’ to attain and maintain the relevant skills for contemporary pedagogy including the use of technology in the classroom. Hence the onus is on the schools, systems and the teachers themselves. Some schools and systems can mandate professional development and the integration of technology in teaching practices however many cannot or do not, fearing the unions. Without a buy-in from teachers then laptops will go the way of interactive whiteboards and be primarily expensive white elephants although this time adding to greater distraction.
We should not be questioning the use of technology in the classroom it is simply there already and totally relevant to the world the students will graduate (or not) into. We should be encouraging students and teachers to create a positive digital footprint (it would be nice to be able to Google Michael). Common jargon in education circles like ‘21st Century Learning’ is unhelpful and outdated, we are 1/8 of the way through the 21st century. Technology is not only here to stay but is constantly changing. Humans, particularly teachers, hate change, however we must now prepare ourselves for working with continuous change.
Simon Crook, eLearning Adviser to 17 secondary schools in southwest Sydney (and not that long removed from the classroom).
Provocative aside – it’s very unpopular and unfashionable to say but smaller class sizes are not a proven measure of improvement and are potentially a very expensive red herring (Hattie, 2008).