Being Mobile | Blog

When Will They Ever Learn, When Will They Ever Learn

Desktops, laptops, tablets: Schools still haven’t figured out how to use them effectively!

Elliot: I don’t mean this in a harsh or nasty way...

Cathie: Fear not, anyone who knows you ... knows that you are a pussy cat....

Elliot <scrunches face>: ... Now wait a minute, I am One Tough Guy!

Cathie <smiling patiently>:  Meow, Meow.... Elliot ... please get on with it...

Elliot <big sigh>: Okay, okay.... While schools say they are data-directed, they are data-directed only when it suits them.

Cathie <laughing>: Well, that’s not particularly nasty.

Elliot:  For the last, oh 50 years or so, the data are clear: When technology is rolled into a classroom ...

Cathie: ... first desktops, then carts of laptops, then 1:1 laptops,  and now 1:1 tablets and BYOD...

Elliot: ... increases in student achievement are almost never seen!

Cathie: That’s right and there is a common theme as to why increases in student achievement are not seen while increases in productivity are routinely seen when technology has been introduced in commerce areas.

Elliot: ... PROPERLY introduced!

Cathie: That correction is very important: by “PROPERLY introduced” you mean that the supporting conditions have been addressed... and in the case of introducing computing devices into a school the key supporting condition is curriculum!

Elliot: YESSSSSSSSS!!!!

Cathie: Our readers are probably saying: Hey, you guys have said this before...

Elliot: ... and we have, but given how absolutely funda....

Cathie <uncharacteristically interrupting>: ... It is so frustrating!!!

Elliot <eyes wide in surprise>: Wow! For the first time ever, in any of these dialogs, I have to say to you: relax, relax ... come down an octave or 3... relax, relax.

Cathie <regaining her composure – but only momentarily>: Yes, thank you. But as a classroom teacher for 14 years I remember...

Elliot: ... quite vividly apparently....

Cathie <talking fast, again>: ... yes, QUITE vividly... I remember how overwhelmed and underprepared I felt when my principal called us together and told us to “integrate the new computers” into our existing curriculum. When was I supposed to do that? And more to the point, HOW was I supposed to do that? None of my previous training had prepared me to do what the principal had asked me to do.

Elliot: At least in Schools of Education now, teachers do use computers in their methods courses.

Cathie: About time! But now we are rolling out carts of tablets, handing them out 1:1, and tablets are not just smaller computers; they have different affordances.  How are teachers, who have had no previous exposure to tablets supposed to, quote from my principal, “integrate” tablets into the existing curriculum?

Elliot: Step 1: Read the 101 different articles on the 101 best iPad apps.

Cathie <sounding frustrated again>: Step 2: Throw out the 101 articles — sorting through them just adds to my workload!!

Elliot <literally take a step back>: Folks, stand back, we have touched a nerve! My colleague and friend, Cathie, is on a tear!

Cathie <smiling again>: In Singapore’s Nan Chiau Primary School ...

Elliot: ... where we have worked for the last fiv years with teachers, students, parents, administrators, IT staff, University researchers, Ministry of Education staff, and ...

Cathie: ... that’s the point! We have worked with ALL those people! Curriculum RE-design was a major undertaking; it was not something that was put on the backs of teachers, not something done in a hurry late in the evening or over a weekend!

Elliot: No, at Nan Chiau, curriculum developers and teachers and University researchers were involved, over months, in completely redesigning the curriculum — redesigning the curriculum around the affordances of the mobile devices. The mobile devices were at the core of the teachers’ instructional strategies, at the core of the students’ learning activities.

Cathie <said with great emphasis!>:  And, it takes time!

Elliot: Indeed, indeed, indeed!! The curriculum was tweaked after the teachers enacted it each year based on feedback from the teachers, which was based in turn, on how the students faired.  Lesson plans were developed and differentiated instruction was added in the years after the initial curriculum was implemented.

Cathie <taking a deep breath>: So, let’s start bringing closure to this ... this ...

Elliot: ... intense ...

Cathie <nodding vigorously>: ... yes, intense conversation! When the job of changing the curriculum to integrate computing devices is dumped onto the shoulders of teachers, they do, of course, the best job they can. But a redesign of the curriculum is not something they can do; all they can do is add some computing device-based activities to an existing curriculum; all teachers can do is figure out how to use computing device-based activities as supplements to the existing curriculum.

Elliot: And, there’s an implicit assumption in using computing devices as supplements to an existing curriculum ...

Cathie: ... if there is no time to enact the learning activities that employ the computing devices – no big deal!  Just leave off those activities!

Elliot <face turning red!>: That’s KEY!!  The ABSOLUTE KEY! As supplements, we are implicitly saying we do NOT think that the computing device-based activities have any significant value....

Cathie <catching Elliot’s fever!>: ... How could supplemental activities have significant value if they can be dropped from enactment if time runs short!

Elliot: Supplemental activities are just that: supplements; they are not essential to the curriculum; supplemental activities don’t carry any real weight in the curriculum.

Cathie: Which brings us back to the beginning of our conversation: the ONLY way computers are going to have a positive impact on student achievement is if they are used as an essential element in the curriculum....

Elliot: And making computing device-based activities essential requires a redesign of the curriculum....

Cathie: ... something that should not, cannot, be placed on the backs of classroom teachers!

Elliot: Which is what schools are doing now as they buy and deploy tablets, as they allow BYOD....

Cathie <exhausted>: ... When will we ever learn?

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