An analogue meal with kindred digital educators
A couple of days ago I attended a dinner with a world-renowned educator and presenter Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, her family, and a few fellow Perth bloggers and ed-tech enthusiasts. The company included a famous chocoholic and THE Edublogger Sue Waters, whom I met personally for the first time, Jean Anning, Jane Lowe and Paul Reid. The evening was very enjoyable and sprinkled with a wonderful dose of fun-spirited Aussie/American bashing and ‘war stories’ – all in all, we hit it off well (I am just not sure how much Sheryl’s family members enjoyed our passionate and often noisy rants, complaints and (mutual) inspirations).
I was particularly pleased and in many ways reassured to hear Sheryl’s passion to push for greater use of ICT and particularly the Web 2.0 (for lack of better word) tools with ‘tough’ schools and kids like ours (see my previous, cathartic post for details – thank you good people for your comments). And as we started getting into the thick of discussion, we recognised that not only the group of people present, but a wider community of bloggers, ed-tech educators etc. (you know the labels…) is vulnerable to the ‘echo chamber’ effect. We all pretty much agree on many things, we fuel each other’s passion, we share and exchange ideas, in short – we ‘get it’. That’s all good but we act mostly in our own individual spaces, despite creation of large (inter)national networks, so easily afforded by the tools whose usefulness and transformative power we try to unveil to others. We are doing great things but without generating the amount of synergy that would make powers-that-be stand up and go beyond, in the words of Seymour Papert (thank you for correction Bryn) ‘strapping a jet engine [of technology] on a horse and cart [of 18th century model of education]’.
Why is that?
For my 20 cents – it is because we have not got yet a generation of decision-makers, the real powers-that-be, who have directly benefited from the ways of learning (or I dare say schooling) we talk about and put to work every day with increasingly awesome results and with growing numbers of educators on board. To use an analogy, can you imagine a (prime) minister or head of corporation, for example having a successful organ transplant using an innovative use of new technology in a skilled way that allowed him to live and thrive – and then arguing, funding, even legislating for the older, ‘back to basics’ way of doing these kinds of transplants. I don’t think so!
The changes many of our leaders have in mind when talking technology and education may be massive, expensive but generally still quite superficial. The devil lies in pedagogy not instructional technology. We are asked to do old things in new ways, with many not realising that a flashy PowerPoint presentation can be far more disengaging than a well constructed class debate, questioning session or even a well constructed and useful pen-and-paper worksheet. Doing old things in new ways can (and often does) ultimately turn people off technology and completely undermine the possibilities it offers to do new, different and very powerful things that simply cannot be done in any other ways.
The voters and consumers have still ‘all been to school’, we ‘know how it has worked for centuries’, which makes us all experts (or at least opinionators) on education. Yes, it has worked but so had mercury and lead fillings in people’s teeth (for a while…).
During the conversation, Sheryl urged for greater and continuous collaboration across schools, states and nations, doing ‘stuff’ that a set of textbooks simply can’t enable and provide. There are literally thousands of us across the world who agree on that (and the number is growing) but the crusted views and attitudes and systems they underpin remain formidable obstacles for our voices to spill beyond our echo chamber.
But you know, people put in their best efforts at times of either great adversity or great success – not mediocrity and simply doing things like they have always been done. I recognise that it is bloody hard to get ourselves and our fellow teachers (and students) along while under the spell of endless compliance and inherently political ‘performance indicators’ – but it’s a fight worth picking and not one to give up easily. For kids’ sake!
The much touted Digital Revolution may not be digital in the binary yes-no sense (bang a few computers in class and voila, we can tick that revolution box) but messy, uncertain, organic and inherently analogue, just like we all humans are. But as readers of history would remind us, such ‘analogue’, grassroots revolutions work better in the long run because they are owned by people and not imposed from top.
Or as a colleague Tony Searl would say ‘that shared beer is going to taste wonderful’. Cheers.
PS Sheryl – you rock (for an American 🙂 … !