Anecdotes do not a system make
Posted January 15, 2017on:
Are classrooms today different from those from a generation ago? Yes and no, depending on what you look at.
If you focus on the superficial, like infrastructure, you might say that classrooms have more modern fixtures. But just about any school-going child can still recognise a 19th century classroom because not much has changed.
On the other hand, classroom practices vary. For example, there are fewer incidences of corporal punishment now. Officially we might like to declare that there is none. So the classroom of today is different from yesteryear’s in that sense.
A recent STonline article, Put away e-devices in class? No way!, tried to show how else classrooms are different.
The article cited one example of “high-tech ways of engaging students”. It was the Swivl. Or in the case of the article, the “Swivl robot”.
I have used different generations of the Swivl (see older version above) and I would not consider it a robot in the educational context.
The device allows you to place a video-recording phone or slate on it so that it tracks the human presenter as he or she moves about the room.
The Swivl is not a robot in the sense that has been applied in schooling and education. The latter form is often an enhancement, an analogue, or even a replacement of the teacher.
According to the article, the device was used to record presentations and the recordings were put online. Institutions of higher learning that purchased this tool initially used it to create “e-learning lectures”. This was a perfect example of doing the same thing differently or a case of different-tool-same-method.
The important issue should not be the technological enhancement, but what technology enables pedagogically and in terms of learning.
For example, recordings of presentations or teaching enable a learner to see themselves through another’s eyes. They might learn to take more and broader perspectives, and thus develop metacognitive strategies like reflecting and changing approaches.
This sounds like a mouthful, but it is also what is more important than the tool itself. The tool does not just enhance a process; it enables it. This is what makes the classroom different and better than the one in the past.
I pick on just one of the three anecdotes in the article to make that point. The other examples of gamification and virtual reality are worth reading and seem different enough. Managed well they are better practices than classrooms of old.
That said, critical readers (critical, not cynical) should note that standalone anecdotes to not necessarily represent an entire system. Small pockets of experimentation or innovation do not represent the entire suit or wardrobe.
Actual pockets are designed be discrete. Some are even hidden. Both are functional and are arguably essential, but very few people outside the owner of the pockets know what is in them. So I appreciate the article turning this pedagogical pocket inside-out.
But let us not get carried away and think that the pockets make the suit.