So here’s my turn.
This is the first computer I remember playing on an at my school, an apple macintosh where we played games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? One of the students on my last placement remarked that computer’s memory is now less than 1 mp3 file. This made me feel very old so best we move on.
In year 9 I had typing class which was probably the same way my mother learned to type, over a typewriter with a surly typing teacher who insisted on using covers over hands so we weren’t cheating at touch typing. Consequently I didn’t learn to type until year 12 when my family purchased a computer at home that had a typing programme and word processing.
Once I learned to type I could move ideas around, write half-finished sentences, paragraphs and come back to them later. Suddenly writing went from something I avoided like the plague to something I enjoyed doing. Technology changed my classroom discussions from, ‘I’m sure there’s some interesting ideas in here but I can’t read them and your spelling needs work’ to having a dialogue about my learning.
That was huge.
Then in 1997 I was the first one of my friends to get the internet. My father purchased a 28k modem, a speed which seems positively glacial now but a new world opened up to me. I could keep in contact with a friend who was doing a student exchange in Sweden, search for information to help with my assignments, and at the risk of outing myself as a complete nerd, I was a usenet frequenter and also built sites on geocites.
IT WAS AWESOME.
So when the opportunity arose to do an Information Technology and Education paper during my second year of university I was in. The year was 1999 and this paper was the first paper that my university offered that was entirely online with most course material flying back and forth over email and discussion boards. Despite being an online class, most students still showed up on a Saturday morning to muck around in the computer lab. We liked the idea of online study however we were still so attached to the idea that learning must take place in a classroom at a certain time. Nevertheless we were all enthusiastic about the internet was going to do for student learning, it was going to be huge.
And it was huge, just not in the way we had imagined.
While we were busy using html code to build websites so that students could learn at home it hadn’t occurred to us that the students would be the ones building the sites. No we were too busy mucky around with FTPs, making picture links and coding frames (remember those) to even start imagining that sort of stuff. We spent a lot of time talking about the advantages and disadvantages of using online communication in education and we also spent a lot of time talking about the digital divide. In general our approach was that the internet was a great tool for teachers to communicate with students we hadn’t quite worked out that students would be the ones building and consuming knowledge. But then we were using altavista as our search engine and Napster still lived.
Fastforward to 2011 and while the internet might have changed considerably in that time my teaching studies online to find that actually not much has changed.
- I still write essays in word documents which although I can now submit via email are posted back with handwritten comments on them.
- I still have exams where I write regurgitate memorized answers to essays.
- I have to fill teaching experience forms by hand.
- I don’t attend lectures but sometimes I feel like the modules are lecture notes from the campus option have literally been cut and pasted into documents for online students to read at their leisure.
There’s a lot of buzz around the term digital natives, kids and teenagers who have grown up with easy access to computers and the internet. Most of them can use technology, or at the very least aren’t afraid of trying the technology, but have they learned how to learn with technology? I’m not sure they have. Being able to source information is one thing, being able to define your problem, critically think about where your information comes from, communicate your thoughts and reflect on the process is another.
Which is where teachers come in, we might not know it all any more (not that I think we ever did) but we do know about learning.
Knowing about how people learn and how to create the right conditions for learning continue to be essential. Because the great rub about ICT is that isn’t about mastering the tools because the tools we are using now will likely be obsolete in 5 years.
Knowing how to learn with technology?
That’s a very powerful, yet highly underrated concept, which first and foremost requires that you use technology to learn.