I am Jonathan Nalder and I want to remind you of a concept made famous by early Star Trek episodes where any character wearing a ‘red shirt’ was expendable and highly likely to be the first one to die on any strange new planet that the crew visited.
So what’s wrong with this picture above? In the background of the photo above you can see a teacher in a red shirt leaning forward and helping a student in a remote community who is using an XO for the first time. What’s not obvious is that this is also the first time the teacher has ever used one – so have they been setup for success, or for failure?
It is not the technology
This image comes from an ICT deployment where the rollout philosophy, like those of many, was largely informed by the idea that delivering the actual technology itself WAS the program. Funnily enough, most similar programs are driven by NGOs and Aid organisations, not by educators.
This deployment was also informed by the idea that students would be able to teach themselves everything they needed to know about the device, hence pre-deployment training for the teachers was not required. In most cases it is actually true that most kids with even a hint of curiosity will take to new technology with an abandon that allows them to tap and push away without the fear with which adults often approach the same situation.
What the idea of total free-range learning fails to address however is the bigger picture where a plan to harness this informal learning allows the students native curiosity to translate into education gains. Lets just admit that kids are experts in play and discovering, and teachers are experts in guiding and scaffolding. So while students CAN probably teach those older than themselves HOW to use technology, teachers are required to teach students how to use technology for LEARNING, not just for itself.
What occurs following any technology deployment is that there is an intense period of play and discovery. Once students have worn out all the software and hardware adventures that the ICT chosen for them can offer however, what happens? What happens if the teacher has not had the benefit of learning not just the device, but also how to use the device to support learning? They become reward-time, or worse, as the classroom reverts back to its pre-deployment state. Certainly there will be exceptional individuals with the time, background and head-space to pioneer how support for learning can work, but if entire ICT4E deployments are built on the assumption that every teacher will be this pioneer, simple logic dictates that they will fail.
Trained and supported teachers matter
Further to this, in the training they receive – is the teacher given the space and tools to learn how to begin using the device to support new ways of collaborative learning? Certainly most technology can provide a great substitution for paper-based learning – but is replacing handwriting with typing enough of a gain to justify technology deployments in the first place?
Does the technology merely get used to reinforce traditional teaching methods? If so, why deploy it? If sustainability and long term educational benefits are really the goal, then training that helps teachers begin a journey towards transformational use of the devices is essential. See the SAMR model by Puentedura for more information on how this process can be envisioned.
Thus, despite the potential benefits of current moves throughout education whereby teachers become ‘guides on the side’ rather than the ‘sage on the stage’, the abandonment of the training that A. positions teachers to be successful guides, and B. lets teachers use this knowledge to build on students discoveries in ways that go beyond just traditional methods, is at the very least, putting teachers at risk of being just another expendable ‘red shirt’ rather than the key mentor that can make or break wether the many dollars expended ever see a commensurate educational rate-of-return.
Thankfully, and to their great credit, the organisation involved in the XO deployment pictured above has since undertaken a journey whereby they have flipped their own deployment model and embraced the support of teachers like almost no others. Let’s hope that after also reflecting on the role of teachers and what the true factors of success or failure for technology deployments in education are, that many others do the same.
Jonathan Nalder, Teacher, and Mobile Learning Project Officer supporting OLPC Australia and iPads in Education.