Digital learning strong in schools, really?
Posted March 24, 2010on:
Dr Cheah Horn Mun, the director of ETD of the MOE, responded to a contributor to the Straits Time forum who asked, “What’s the update on digital learning?”
Horn Mun was a colleague of mine in NIE before taking the post in the MOE. I wonder if he (or one of his people) will read my blog entry as I have a critique on his response. I have nothing against him, of course, as he is a really nice guy and I think I know where he is coming from. I realize that he has to represent an organization, so his personal views may be clouded. It is the content of his reply that I critique, not the person.
I am glad that he informed the public about financial assistance schemes for bridging the technology divide [see text blocked in green]. I am also glad that he mentioned the cyberwellness efforts in schools. We in NIE have introduced this concept in our ICT course a semester ago and made it part of a graded assignment so that new teachers are aware of the concept.
In trying to provide a succinct reply, it was not possible for Horn Mun to list all the schools and all their ICT and “digital learning” efforts. But I was left wondering why the usual suspects keep appearing. Are there no other schools worthy of mention?
Why don’t stakeholders (parents in particular) know what is happening in schools with regards to ICT integration? Why do they have to wait for limited and selective coverage by the press? Every school should be proudly publishing its efforts in its Web 1.0 school site, or better still, taking advantage of Web 2.0 to regularly update the school’s blog, Twitter or Facebook account.
Perhaps most schools have little to say. Why? In my opinion, they are not, as the director of ETD wrote [see text blocked in orange], “well resourced with the computing infrastructure and digital resources to harness ICT for learning”. It might appear so administratively on paper and on VIP visits to schools, but the reality is that most schools do not yet have early 21st century tools in place because of industrial age hangovers.
Yes, a few schools have 1:1 computing programmes and campus wide wireless networks. The majority do not. A few more schools have IWBs and “special” rooms. But these tools and venues are of little use (and little used) if pedagogy does not change with the times.
How do I know? I have friends and former trainees who are school principals, heads of departments or teachers. I follow teachers on Twitter, Facebook or their blogs. As a supervisor, consultant and teacher educator, I visit schools regularly and make it a point to ask about their ICT infrastructure and actually see the rooms. I do school-based research and collect uncensored information from teachers about their schools. Finally, I was a teacher before I was a teacher educator, so I know how most teachers think and react.
Teachers will complain that the infrastructure is not in place. They are right but it will never be in place because technology changes so rapidly. Instead, they could use what the students already have or think of ways to work with businesses and the community to get what they need.
Teachers complain of a lack of time despite efforts to reduce curriculum time for more innovative instruction. The integration of ICT does make lesson planning and implementation more complex, but it does not have to be overly elaborate or time-consuming.
One thing I model for my teacher trainees is how to facilitate ICT embedded activities that are only 5-15 minutes long. Think about how you might conduct a 5-minute brainstorming session using a collaboratively generated online mindmap. Think about 10-minute learning stations that students visit and where they search for information, solve mini problems (that are part of a larger problem) and reflect on them… all using iPod Touches and a wireless router. Think about a concept that no one, including the teacher, is sure about and everyone uses their iPhones or netbooks to instantly get information from the Web and then have a class discussion to clarify that concept.
What schools should invest in are technologies that will support pedagogies and strategies that last. Pedagogies that build upon experiential learning, problem-based learning, case-based learning or game-based learning. Digital learning then becomes learning that is enabled, not just enhanced, by critical, powerful and meaningful forms of technology.
So what exactly do schools need? Wireless Internet access anywhere in school and mobile computing devices like iPod Touches, variants of the Nintendo DS, Sony PSPs, smartphones or netbooks. Do schools have these in place? Most do not. Do some students already have some of these kid-friendly devices? Yes, they do and half the need is potentially fulfilled. Are most schools taking advantage of this? No, they are not. They need to put technology in the hands and minds of the learners. After all, we are in their service and preparing them for their futures, not our past.
So it there digital learning in schools? From my point of view as a teacher educator, a researcher and a concerned parent, I’d say certainly not enough.