Thursday, 30 April 2009

The great technology debate

I came across a interview by Tom Holt with Mark Bauerlein, the author of 'The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30.), see with This is a very interesting read for those interested in how we engage with 21st C students.

I was reminded of some of the activities my peers and I engaged in during our school lives (BC - before computers). One of the most powerful technologies was 'paper'. We had many inappropriate uses of paper, but the one that seemed to generate the most ire from our teachers was the act of passing notes in class. As I remember, this did not lead to a paper ban, or the pencils and pens that were used to construct the notes.

In his article Tom observes:

"Technology is a tool. Just like a pencil. Just like an overhead projector. Just like a chalkboard, just like a ballpoint pen. I have never ever heard someone ask the question: “I wonder if overhead projectors make a difference in student achievement?” “I wonder if using a whiteboard is better than using a chalkboard?” I wonder why no one looks at books, at notebooks, at desks, at the lights in the classrooms and asks, “I wonder if these things make a difference in student achievement?” No one questions the use of pencils. But they question the use of computers."

Consider also this very ancient quote:

"The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it's not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered."

So which invention was the writer referring to? Writing of course (Plato in conversations between Phaedr and Socrates -!

It is the what we do with the tool. Maybe the questions we should be asking are what is the nature of activities we ask students to undertake using the tools, or what pedagogical advantages (affordances) do the tools offer in achieving the learning outcomes. It is clear that in Hong Kong many students are familiar and knowledgeable about blogging, but NOT in an academic context. In recent unpublished research in Hong Kong, it is clear that students require scaffolding to use blogs appropriately in an academic setting. The blogs offer ways for students to share knowledge, use media, receive feedback that can be public or private, and learn what is deemed appropriate in an academic setting (e.g., critical thinking, using supporting literature, and logical argument). There are numerous advantages of using blogs in an academic setting but without a framework and appropraite support to undertake the activity, experience has shown that many such postings become a 'stream of (un)conscious thought' and personal opinion.

I started this blog as a response to the argument by Bauerlein that the use of technologies in the digital age makes our students dumb. Students would no more give up their computers for learning than his generation would have given up books. I don't recall any questions such as, 'do books improve learning?' in recent times. According to Socrates we have it wrong, or maybe we are just asking the wrong questions.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

It is what you do with the tool that is important

I am currently the guest of Pyatigorsk State Linguistics University (PLSU) in Russia ( and it is interesting to observe that culture and language make little difference to the problems and potential solutions to the effective use of technology in teaching and learning (T&L). It is often said that pedagogy is the key issue, and so it is, but it is only one part of the complex problem of using technology to support T&L. There are a number of others. One of the more important is to acknowledge that information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer new ways of working and to make this part of the strategic plan of the institution. This requries a significant input and vision from the senior management of the university. PLSU has such support, both from their Rector who is championing the changes, and key academic staff (Deans). Another key factor is the flexibility, willingness to listen and innovative approaches to solving problems by the information technology support group. PLSU has a young dynamic IT Head who sees opportunities rather than threats (e.g., tight budgets = work smarter by using free and open source software). A third factor is the willingness and support for staff to work in new ways. Change is always difficult but there is a synergy of key factors working together here and I am certainly learning a lot from interactions with the staff and students.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Excellent report on eLearning

Hi All
A new report titled, 'Learning 2.0: The Impact of Web2.0 Innovation on Education and Training in Europe' has just been published by the Institute for Prespective Technological Studies. This report is worth a look, especially since it addresses the issues of Learning 2.0 and the potential impact of social networking technologies in particular. The abstract is reproduced below.

"This report presents the outcomes of the expert workshop held at the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) on 29 and 30 October 2008 to discuss the impact of the social computing on Education and Training (E&T) in Europe.
The workshop aimed to validate the results of the Learning 2.0 study, launched by IPTS in collaboration with DG EAC. The study explored the impact of social computing on E&T in Europe (in terms of contribution to the innovation of educational practice, and to more inclusive learning opportunities for the knowledge society). It also assessed Europe’s position in the take up of social computing in formal educational contexts and - by identifying opportunities and challenges - devised policy options for EU decision makers.
The report offers a structured account of the debate that took place during the two day workshop. It reflects the discussion on the potential of social computing take up in organized educational contexts, focusing on innovation (from the pedagogical, organisational and technological standpoints), and on inclusion. It further discusses how, despite the recent emergence of the phenomenon mostly outside E&T institutions, its primarily experimental nature within formal E&T contexts, and the speed of its evolution, there are clear signs that it can transform educational practice and that a new schooling culture is called for. The report then presents the main risks that were identified by the experts and proposes a number of items for research and the policy agenda to respond to the educational needs of society as it is being transformed by the social computing wave. Finally, it summarizes the trends identified as likely to affect the future evolution of the learning landscape."