Generation X teachers have experienced a range of attitudes towards education from our Baby Boomer compadres. One set hold onto a belief that all students want to be creators – artists, musicians, writers, mathematicians, scientists. That was a belief expressed very strongly this morning by Gary Stager. Also present with this group is a strong belief in completely student-centred, student-self directed learning that would do away with the old ways of education. This is why they don’t like the traditional classroom, with its teacher at the front, with the rows of desks. It also explains why they so loathe the Interactive Whiteboard.
The IWB question reveals exactly the dilemma for 1st Generation ICT Revolutionaries like Stager. They see that the IWB is a way for systems to preserve pre-WW2 ways, but incorporating new technology to reinforce those old ways. They see the IWB as a defeat. They preserve the current shape of classrooms – Open Learning Spaces and learning pods are perceived to be at odds with the IWB.
However, the IWB is not the evil they have been said to be at this conference by some. They do provide primary teachers with a chance to have their student become the teacher – hence empowering them. They can also provide a chance for a teacher to show examples of how to start a piece of project-based learning. The interactive software provided for mathematics in high school also allow for a different way of presenting old ideas that need to be learnt.
This raises the crucial point. Baby boomer Ideologues can talk about students creating things and teachers doing assessment tasks where you ask students to explain what’s in a hole. However, it’s impractical. Schools don’t work that way and never will. There are constants that will not go away. There is a need for direct instruction in our courses – from my high school context, there are core things I have to do with every year group. These things are explained well with an IWB. When my classes deconstruct a poem, the notes we make as a group become their saved pdf notes. The same goes for screen shots from films, where we have made notes on what is being represented. That means we do spend less time with students writing notes. Mind you, the IWB might or might not offer a great deal more to teachers in high schools and possibly don’t need to be in every room. It is, though, a way of reducing the time taken with the things students need to know for examinations.
This idea of examinations leads to another American philosophy – that nationalised curriculums and testing is bad. Americans have a great faith in liberal, individualist philosophy and nationalised curriculums and testing run counter to that. This is why is was slightly ironic that he was asking what unions were doing to stop it, especially as American approaches to industrial relations have led a great deal of damage (Work Choices and the Individualised approach to contracts, for example, drew upon American ideas). Truth is, National Curriculums can be good for parents and students, if done well. They can reassure parents that their children can perform certain skills they find important. This is part of the reason why unions aren’t opposed to National Curriculums. They do oppose, however, with the idea of using them against teachers in terms of measuring “teacher quality”. And they will continue to do that, with some success.
Another idea covered by Stager is the idea that we access mediocre work from students in the area of ICT and that we need to expect more. This is a good suggestion. However, there are students in our classrooms to whom technology is a mystery they are happy not to solve. Some are just happy to produce work that shows that they have some tech knowledge. There are many students who don’t want to use any apps other than MSN and Facebook. Don’t want to develop their skills in Photoshop. That’s because they want to be entertained, to receive, rather than create.
He also raised the idea that teachers do need to use technology beyond just as an instructive tool. However, there are question these ideas raise: Do all students want to be creators? Aren’t there students who see school as a way of getting skills for a corporate career? Skills for the farm?
Another Baby Boomer ideological concept – Open Learning Spaces – are meant to provide opportunities for creation and project based learning. These are wonderful for some students – the students from which we have seen great projects. I do wonder, though, what are the other 20 members of the class doing while the ten leading students are shining? Are they creating? Or are they happy to receive? Just be followers? My many group work lessons have demonstrated this principle. Not all are engaged and creative.
Trouble is, as teachers, we can forget that not everyone is us, wanting to be in front of a class, creating lessons. We can forget the ones who like direction, want notes. I have students who write notes I have made on the IWB I use. They don’t like reading pdf on computers. They like to write their own notes in their own style – not on the laptops provided by the government – but on paper. Does that mean I am failing as a teacher? No – it reflects the variety of students we all have in our classrooms. There are ones happy to sit and receive direct instruction from an IWB. Mind you, I still think the challenge is out there for us – to find the students with “voices” and help them find that voice, make a noise and make it clear. For them, the Stager approach and philosophy is great.