Saturday, April 28, 2007

Technology, time and organisation

There is no doubt there is a lot of the technology out there that could be put to good use in schools. Students are comfortable with it and excited by it and the potential for increased learning, both in volume and rate, is mind boggling.

The biggest problem appears to be time. There are several factors that impinge on the time available and often it's the new technologies and using them in classes that suffer.

The curriculum needs to be taught and while suggestions are made in syllabi for various learning experiences for students, the how of presentation is left up to the teacher. Most teachers are highly committed professionals who try very hard to make their classes interesting and productive spaces that encourage learning at all levels. Lessons are planned and prepared, always with an eye on the time available. Deadlines loom. Homework is prepared and checked. Feedback is given on many aspects of students' work, often in writing and often individually. Exams are set, sat and marked. Individual feedback sessions booked and attended. Lunch times are made available to offer students extra help.

Behaviour management can often be time consuming. Every incident must be recorded and followed up. Set procedures must be followed. And mountains of records prepared to ensure each situation is treated individually and fairly. As the professionals they are, teachers do their job, but it takes time. Often writing anecdotal reports and phoning parents wander into the evenings.

Meetings are attended: general staff meetings, faculty meetings, subject meetings. Professional development is squeezed in, sometimes during school time but often after school, in the evenings, on weekends.

And teachers have a life too. There are friends and family, dinners and birthday parties.

When then, do teachers learn about blogs and wikis and RSS feeds? When do they put that learning to practice by adapting and creating things for their students to use? How many teachers have begun projects with the idea of using a blog as a reflective learning space for their senior students, or encouraged students to use wikis for their group assignment, only to find time nibbling away at their planning and support and the whole thing fizzling to a 'no show'. How many have managed to set things up, such as the blog, only to find students can't access it from school because of site restrictions that can't easily be changed?

The answer might be in a complete change in classroom management. The teacher can no longer be ‘the font of all knowledge’. S/he is metamorphosing into the Learning Facilitator, encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning and the direction that takes. This might mean that classrooms become more mobile, both inside a room and around the school environment. Classrooms could be full of students all studying the same subject, perhaps working on the same topic, perhaps not, but all working at different stages along their learning journey. The days of the teacher standing at the front of the room talking to the whole class are numbered, if not already gone. Instead s/he will be seated with a small group of students discussing and discovering as they are, then moving to another group.

The key to success in this type of environment, I believe, is organisation. Forward planning and preparation on a detailed and long-term scale is absolutely necessary in order to free up the time required during semester to allow dynamic learning to take place. Without that thorough planning, we’ll revisit the classrooms where the teacher walks in and says, ‘Open the text at page …”

I hope we never go back there.

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