Why do I get angry with technology? When it gets in the way. The whole point of to deploying technology in the classroom SHOULD be to make people’s lives easier. So why is the case that so often it doesn’t seem to happen? There’s a few issues at play:
1). Unreliability. For me, technology has to be reliable. Therefore, if equipment cannot be trusted and staff have no confidence in it, it is destined to fail. What can be done? Repair/replace/retrain! In many cases, if the system is genuinely faulty then pull it! But is it the case that the users’ expectations don’t match what it was intended to do? In that case retraining is the answer – what better chance to get genuine, real-world feedback than from talking to your users about their exact requirements and see how close the system is to serving them?
2). Inflexibility. Technology should be flexible. Humans behave in mostly predictable patterns, but one of the most fascinating thing about working with children is their ability to think with unclouded vision and mis-use (NOT often in a negative way) equipment. If it’s a students’ instinct to use a system in a particular way, and it supports the educational goals, should we not consider how we can adapt to make this possible?
3). Transparency. The best technology is the kit that you don’t realise you’re using. When electric kettles were introduced, I’m willing to bet it was a big deal! But I’m also willing to be that they didn’t require intensive training sessions. Technology SHOULD be the same, and it’s heading there – look at the Nintendo Wii. It’s the first games console to make controls intuitive, utilizing real-world motor skills to achieve tasks that would have required arbitrary button-presses via ‘traditional’ control methods. Of course, using these skills to decapitate zombies is one thing and hopefully unlikely to have any real world benefit, but the Wii is also teaching people to cook, stay fit, even the basics of improving their mental agility with titles such as Big Brain Academy.
So, where does technology go from here? The answer is ‘anywhere we want it to’. As those tasked with supporting teaching and learning, technical and support staff need to spend time talking to students, teachers and each other and try to understand what people want to achieve. Could the lesson take place without technology in the classroom? In most cases, to a degree yes, but can technology be deployed to engage and enthrall students without the destabilising nature of intensive training all round?
Time will of course tell but technology is already moving in the right direction – it’s up to everyone involved to help deliver a future where its use becomes more transparent. The next time you use a kettle, consider how neatly the technology suits the purpose!