It has been a long time since I last wrote about education technology. This has been because I am rarely involved with school technology nowadays. Nevertheless, that does not mean that I do not still think about it or follow developments in the education field. As someone who was involved in education technology right from the very beginning, I still have an interest in it.
What has prompted me to write this post is that, not for the first time, education technology appears in a rut; it appears to be going wrong again. It is quite clear that technology on schools has changed and that it has changed several times over the decades since its introduction in the 1980s. Not all of these changes have been beneficial or brought about the developments, improvements, intended. The last of these changes was probably the shift from ICT to Computing. Now, though, even that change is being looked T through critical eyes and, it would seem, is not being viewed favourably.
So let me cast my eyes and thoughts over the scene and try to identify what I feel is going wrong, if anything is.
My viewpoint comes from looking back at the very start of education technology and the reasons why we introduced it into schools. Back at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, there were three main reasons for the introduction of technology (computers, as we called it then) into schools.
1. The computer was seen as a resource for pupils to learn and for teachers to teach
2. The computer was seen as necessary to teach pupils how to use computers
3. The computer was seen as an admin resource to help teachers with tasks such as report writing, thereby releasing more time for the actual role of teaching pupils.
Let me dismiss that third purpose before we go any further. The computer was and continues to be a tool for teachers in planning, report writing and other admin tasks. However, it has not freed up more time for ‘teaching’, mainly because these admin tasks are usually performed during what schools call, non directed time or, what teachers call, their own time e.g. in the evenings or weekends.
The second purpose listed above was one initially embraced by a small number of teachers, mainly it appeared in secondary schools, who were responsible for teaching what we used to call sixth form pupils; pupils in their last year’s of school studies and who had time on the timetable for extra studies, such as computers.
It is the first purpose, which was the main driver for putting computers into schools. The computer was regarded as a resource for helping pupils learn and to help teachers teach. Looking back, it is not hard to see that most secondary schools failed to grasp this. They still persisted in the second purpose and ended up putting the technology in the hands of ICT departments, who built expensive computer suites to teach pupils how to do computers. This also created a monopoly on the computers, to the extent that teachers outside of the ICT department, scarcely got a look-in when it came to using the technology for teaching their subject(s). This was compounded by various changes to the National Curriculum, which was never sure where to place ICT or technology and reinforced the ‘silo’ approach to teaching. Add into the mix, a series of critical or even damning Ofsted reports into ICT and you can begin to understand how teachers became both confused and demoralised. Furthermore, you can understand how the use of technology became misunderstood and entered a period of ‘crisis’.
Hindsight is a great thing and, using it, one can see that both the National Curriculum and Ofsted were wrong, fundamentally wrong, in their understanding of education technology. It was this failure of understanding which was key to the crises that beset education technology and which continues to do so today.
So, let me recap. Education technology had three main reasons or purposes behind its introduction and use in schools. The National Curriculum, Ofsted and many, probably most, secondary schools, emphasised the second reason and failed to implement or even take cognisance of the primary reason.
With the above observation in mind, it is pertinent to look at the last change in educational technology; the shift from ICT to Computing. This changed the emphasis more clearly than any other change, from using technology as a resource to regarding technology as a subject. Its purpose was fundamentally to teach pupils how to program, how computers worked and how to do computing. It was a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived lack of computing skills among the workforce; an echo of a fundamental mistaken belief that the purpose of schools is merely to provide a workforce with the skills industry requires. This change to Computing in schools not only overlooked the use of technology as a learning resource, it fundamentally dismissed it as a sideline. This is why I feel the shift to Computing has been the biggest error ever made in education technology.