Hedge your BETTs – the 7 paradoxes of technology in education
I shuffled around BETT for a short while, but I always find it a rather unreal spectacle – a huge shanty town of stalls, selling to largely suspicious customers. There’s several contradictions in ‘education and technology’ that are all too obvious here.
Paradox 1: Technology and classrooms
Education is obsessed by classroom delivery. That means it has to constantly try to force technology into this one box. Classrooms are designed for teachers to talk to groups of students, who then troop off every hour or so to another classroom. To shove technology into this context is like punching holes in the walls. The boxed-in learners are always trying to get out and the technology allows them to do so. So you get this emphasis on iPads, expensive whiteboards and table-top computers and all sorts of other nonsense that has been shoe-horned into the classroom, leaving poor teachers to manage the fact that learners, especially onine want to be free.
Paradox 2: Technology and teachers
The second assumption is that technology should always be teacher-mediated. That’s because the current educational model assumes that teaching is always a necessary condition for learning – it’s not. Teacgers in schools are wonderful, that's their habitat. But the more successful attempts at content creation, distribution and use have been largely teacher-free, allowing students to get on with their learning in the quiet of their own homes or bedrooms - Google, Wikipedia, Khan, BBC Bitesize etc etc.
Paradox 3: Anti-corporate attitude
On the whole, schools, and the teaching profession, have more than a whiff of anti-corporate attitude. Teaching is often explicitly (not always) anti-private sector. You see this on Twitter where many of the tweets are moaning about technology and evil vendors. This makes the market rather awkward, as there’s a lack of trust between sellers and buyers. Hence the crowds of attendees who end up trawling the exhibition for pencils, plastic things, stress balls and other goodies.
Paradox 4: Anti-technology
Although most of the people at BETT are not like this, many of their colleagues are explicitly anti-technology. I’ve experienced this many times in schools and colleges when I’ve given talks on technology.
Paradox 5: Technology brings visibility
Teachers instinctively know that a VLE and other pieces of learning management software, expose them to scrutiny, either by managers or parents, and fear this exposure. This is understandable, but teaching has long been an occupation that lacked scrutiny.
Paradox 6: Small is expensive
Technology in schools has suffered from poor procurement and poor implementation because it is bought by individual schools when the real model should be higher up the value chain, above individual institutions. Schools often make bad, expensive choices and struggle to support the things they buy, leading to further suspicion.
Paradox 7: Technology wants to be free
Technology has a place in schools and a huge role in education. But that role is largely to do with learning out of the box that is the classroom. It needs to target and promote autonomous learning, free from the distractions of groups within a classroom. Most people use technology on a one-to-one basis, not in large groups. If we freed up students to get on with self-driven learning, delivered all learning at home via technology, we’d get better value for our money.
Hedging your bets?
There's some fantastic people working in education and technology, who really care about improving the lot of students, but context crushes much of this effort. I’d like to see technology free us from some of the hideous aspects of the existing model – by delivering strong, inspiring content, allowing home learning to be delivered, marked and communicated back to teachers, giving parents more information and control. But I wouldn’t BETT on it!