The other night I was at an information evening at my children’s school here in Melbourne, Australia. The evening was being held by the senior primary teachers and the school principal to discuss their research into running a 1:1 iPad program for the Grade 5 and 6 students next year (that is roughly ages 11 and 12 here in Australia).I’d been asked to say a few words, as a parent, but also as someone the principal knew worked primarily in and around education technology. I am a fan of technology in education, but definitely not a techevangelist; he wanted me to talk about the potential. I said I would, but I also wanted to talk about the dangers. As it turned out – I spoke about neither.
In the previous weeks, I’d spent some time in my two sons’ classes doing some work with the 10 iPads the school already has. You can see the results in the image above – that was the final outcome of a short lesson that taught the students to consider the breadth of how they might use tablet devices as part of their school work, and to see how they could collaborate (even in isolation from each other) to create something. Just like the creators of computer games, or websites, or movies or any number of things do every day. You see, I love the potential of 21st century technology to help us rethink the way we structure the way we learn. I want my children to enter a world beyond school where they are seeking opportunities, where they are adaptable and flexible and able to use technology to enrich their relationships, to be more efficient, to express themselves creatively and to play and trial things and to fail and try again. Like many in the educational technology space I am interested in attaching my ideas around a new type of education to the thing that is most rapidly changing in our lives at the moment – technology!
So, I’m sitting in a room with a whole bunch of parents and all the issues about trolling and email and keeping children safe from the big bad world of the internet slowly takes over the conversation and presentation. I feel uncomfortable, that this government-run school has to ask parents to pay for the technology if they want it and I feel worse for the parents who are standing there and thinking, “I don’t know how I can afford this.” I am frustrated by the guy who keeps interrupting because he thinks he know so much about the technology sides of things, but is deliberately being obstructionist (possibly because he is feeling a bit anxious at the prices being paraded before us on the interactive whiteboard). But, amid the usual palaver of anything related to children’s education and diverse school communities I saw and heard something else.
I saw a group of teachers explain a journey that they had been on, over almost a year, they were able to explain their own anxieties, issues and challenges in thinking through how they could use mobile technology in the classroom. It was 8.30pm at night, and they were not getting paid, yet they were standing up in front of a whole group of parents and talking about why this excited them, why it excited the children and how it changed and improved the way they taught. They talked to the energy and enthusiasm they had seen in children who previously had been difficult to engage, they talked about how they saw it helping them better communicate and build a relationship with parents and they talked about how children could easily share work at home and begin to change the way parents could interact with their children’s education. They talked about teaching collaboration, creativity and communication. They were energetic, they were passionate, and they were sincere.
So, as a parent, when I got up to say a few words I simply acknowledged that for many the whole technology thing is overwhelming and the audience’s heads nodded in agreement. And, I didn’t speak about iPads or how they could be used. I simply said that I had seen the number one reason why for this school and for our children a 1:1 iPad program was the way to go. That reason was because the teachers believed it was the way to go. And, we should back them.
I said we should back the staff because what I had seen them present actually had very little to do with the technology. I saw that their experience in thinking about what to do with mobile technology in the classroom had re-inspired them. It meant they offered new ways to teach and had a tool that provided them with the capacity to do that. Of course, they always had the capacity, but sometimes you need something to ignite the passion and to make it clear and if we had teachers who wanted to communicate to parents more and to teach our children 21st century skills and who ditched the rote learning for project-based learning and student-directed content then we, as parents, were doing very well. And, so we should do it because even for students who don’t have the ability to have an iPad to take home, they will have one in class and they will benefit from the improved quality of teaching a 1:1 iPad program will bring to this school and in this case.
That night made it very clear to me why tablets and mobile computing are important for our classrooms – and it is only slightly related to the tech itself. It is not what the technology can do that makes it important, it is the way it has reignited passion and ideas in teachers. If these devices are being championed by teachers, listen to what they are saying. These teachers are not just championing the technology, they are celebrating a new way of teaching and learning. Something about these devices has helped many teachers to see the classroom very differently. That should be encouraged, supported and most thoroughly welcomed.