DER One year on – a rant

Following an email from the HT English yesterday (@madiganda) in which she noted the negative attitude that Year 10 students displayed toward the use of the DERNSW laptops in a letter to the editor as part of their Trial School Certificate I decided to come out swinging…..

To me it is not unexpected that the students are commenting that laptops have caused distractions and are actually having a negative impact on their learning because generally as a school we are not using them properly yet. (Disclaimer – there are some teachers who are!). From my conversations with Year 10 students the sum of the laptop usage at the moment is to: copy notes down from the board into a “One Note”; access the internet for research; and play Mathletics.

While these represent a start none of them seem to promote higher order thinking or seem to be a change in pedagogy as a result of the DER program. In fact while the NSWDET has done a fantastic job with the introduction of the DER my only criticism would be that it gave teachers an out with regards the opportunity for a “revolution”. A common phrase bandied around is “the laptops don’t have to be used every lesson”, “we can do this slowly”…etc. While both those statements are true I would never have said them! It is the same as me saying to my students: alright you really need to do these problems by the end of the week they an essential part of the course – but if you are not confident then just do one (or none!) and that will be enough. Too many teachers in my opinion have latched on to the option that laptop use is optional.

The obvious answer is training of teachers so that when they are not confident they seek out support – with an emphasis on the teachers seeking the support. At present it appears as if there is an expectation that training be provided – but what in? What program? How? When? Who pays? (I know there is a DER PL fund!). In a reply email yesterday @madiganda noted “Maybe the kids don’t like it as much because it does require them to use their initiative a bit, to be self-directed and many are not capable of this yet – again, we need to train them from Year 7 for this self-directed learning.”. I think she is spot on – and not just for the students.

Teachers themselves need to become independent and self-directed in their learning of the technology – to seek out information when it is required – as it is required. Venture into the unknown – take the risk – challenge all previously held perceptions of how teaching is undertaken. Model being a learner to our students. Make mistakes – be a non-expert.

I think I understand the “softly, softly” approach that has been taken with regards the politics of education. But I do not agree with it. In fact it reminds me of a quote from Douglas Adams in the ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ : “utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”. Do we fit that mould?

One year on I think we should be focusing on the “revolution” part of the DER. And revolutions are often bloody. I for one have taken my gloves of – I will no longer accept the idea that technology should not be an integral part of all education – particularly when access issues are removed. Students and teachers must now embrace the opportunity. To steal President Obama’s famous phrase: “Yes we can”.

A future post will contain a brainstormed list of suggested activities that promote higher order thinking using technology.