In one of my roles in education, I lead an initiative across 300 Independent schools promoting engagement with the range of Information and communication technologies. ICTs for short mean so much to so many, precision with regards to their definition is impossible. So here is an attempt to explain my vision of its purpose in education, and to highlight perhaps our next steps within Claires Court Schools.
There is a backbone of modern technologies that underpin our society, from telecommunications through energy handling to commerce and trading. Such gross industrial usage is beyond the role of education to explain, expand or even comprehend. As Douglas Adams once wrote “everything that’s already in the world when you are born is just normal’. What interests me is the arrival of new technologies, which are often first understood by those whose thinking is not conditioned by the natural order of things, and certainly best developed by those whose thinking is sufficiently asymmetric to take the ideas from concept to mass production. Nobody has ever accused Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of being well-balanced individuals, certainly not when they were young and thrusting forwards as pioneers in their different fields of soft and hard wares!
ICT in schools has ceased to be about personal computing and productivity tools; commendable though both are, they are now established aids to life, embedded in both the commercial and domestic world. Nor is ICT in schools about edutainment, the 21st century version of the video recorder attempting to supplant the teacher in the classroom. In my view we now reach beyond ICT completely, in the same way we do the manufacture of the fountain pen or the technologies that ensure the biro can work uphill. We now have tools that work in a digital medium that no longer have us studying how they work, and running 20 question tests of that knowledge. From hardware such as netbooks and Flip video cameras to cloud-based computing, we have kit that works, and we now can use these technologies to engage children in learning in ways never hitherto conceived.
From computer-based teaching tools that are endlessly patient to a repository of searchable knowledge that exceeds comprehension, our teachers can now blend these digital opportunities to engage children anew in the creative arts of learning. From the immediate analysis of disasters such as Deepwater Horizon to the extraordinary new view we have on the universe provided by Hubble and other telescopes, we have gross scale scientific engineering for awe, inspiration and wonder. The challenges for humanity to continue to nourish itself as it grows apace on the planet, brings everything from genetic engineering to green energy production to our school labs. But above all, we have the opportunity to develop skills in visual and creative literacies to a much younger generation, and because they have control at a younger age, a greater percentage of our children can be enabled as successful learners. Passing exams has always been about being well-above-average with a read/write response, separating the sheep from goats simply by the willingness of the learners to be compliant and to be dextrous with these two skills.
It may take some time for we who teach to identify how to value skills in the young such as stop-go movie creation, animating philosophical ideas through cartoon creation or the ability to write using image on film, but I make no bones about the need to come up to speed in these areas, as they form part of the ‘new literacies’ digital technologies are bringing to the fore. 30 years ago, Claires Court seemed to grow a generation of young programmers, inspired by the arrival of computers to the desktop, who learned how to be accurate, precise and thoughtful in coding on machines such as the Sinclair Spectrum and BBC micro. 20 years of consumer electronics followed, during which time the ‘coding’ became embedded on chips, leading to our children become increasingly absorbed in the ‘gaming’ of machines, and distracted from new learning possibilities. As the most powerful computers ever built now appear in their pockets, the opportunity to code and create has returned. To call the current generation of gadgets ‘phones’ dismisses 99% of their capabilities; they are recorders for sound and light, precision devices for GPS and motion tracking, a gateway into a cornucopia of knowledge and the productivity tools with which to stitch the same into knowledge.
This all sounds very grand, but you only have to track the latest movements of our leading junior boys in the upper years at Ridgeway to realise that we are not just taking about blogging and taking pictures. And at secondary level we can now run serious days of broadcasting experience, pupils can write self-revision guides using film rather than paper and pencil, we can celebrate their work not just by wall displays but by mashing together onto YouTube or Glogster and ‘network’ our results to our friends in an instant. Now such learning may indeed outpace the busy parent trying hard to keep a family on the rails, but it should not outpace the educators. I know we have to monitor cyberspace, build into our pupils our values more strongly so that they keep their integrity whilst going ‘virtual’ and above all, learn from our pupils as we have forever done in the past what the possibilities can be. It is they that have the young minds that can shape the knowledge economies of the future; we who educate can’t know that future, but we will for ever carry the responsibility to teach so that our pupils can learn. Expect me as Academic Principal to enjoy that, because I do!
Oh and by the way, here’s a couple of examples of my assembly work developed using three different tools, Animoto, Prezi and Goanimate. http://bit.ly/gLc8FW, http://bit.ly/dU08ge and http://bit.ly/fdXkNS