We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. - Marshall Mcluhan : Understanding Media, 1964
The Ministry of Education is starting their roadshows about the Network for Learning. I've been reading a few things about this new initiative, and reading frustrations expressed by some in schools about the ongoing UFB initiative and the issues around implementing that technology. I've also heard some ugly stories of demanding educators harrassing providers. As a friend in the industry said, it wasn't the complaint itself, it was the sense of demanding entitlement from said educators.
Which is bad enough, but another sentiment that I've heard expressed is that school leaders just want this issue sorted, they want someone to "flick a switch" and have it all work. Which is where I take exception, and start getting a bit ranty.
We cannot allow this attitude to lead our thinking or our conversing about technology. We cannot afford to not put the best effort into integrating IT and technology into our practice and our profession. For our own sake, let alone our students.
Sure, integrating technology is complex and fraught with confusion and at times, convolution. There are a wide range of competing tools that underpin how we'll do what we do, as we go forward. Their effects have implications right across our existing systems. They are tools that will demand change and shift in process. That's for all areas of society, not just education.
If we abdicate responsibility and hand it off to something as nebulous and centralised as the N4L - don't we then give away our right to have any say in what the implications of that N4L are?
When we're all connected by the N4L and have a set number of services to access, and the MoE creates a website that we must all input our national standards data into, so they can collate and create "non-ropey league tables" - will we be blaming the technology?
When the government, after dropping $400million on this network, tells us we must use these services, these websites and these assessment tools, not any tools that we've decided are actually more beneficial to our learning needs, - will we be decrying the technology?
Will we be claiming the high ground as leaders of teaching and learning?
Or will we be quietly blaming ourselves for not paying attention to the bigger picture policy issues around delivering public education to society?
As actively engaged school leaders, who are led by the learning and teaching needs of the schools which we work in, we should be aware of what happens with this technology. As a result of choosing it. As a result of using it.
We should be questioning and querying those who come in the door selling their product. We should be critically reviewing each and every tool that comes in - and asking "Does this make a difference? How does it make a difference? What are the implications for choosing to use it? Can the learning occur with a tool or set of tools that we already have?
We should be looking at the ones who are calling for us to use these tools, and asking - "What are they getting out of this?"
Unless you're actively preventing learning taking place in your school, right now, on a daily basis - because you can't get access to UFB - I'd humbly suggest that the arrival of UFB or the N4L won't actually change your practice.
And faster access to Youtube and easier pdf sharing doesn't count.
Your practice may change. But that will take time and effort and some serious shared thinking and discussion. By school leaders, teachers, students and communities.
That conversation needs to be about what online, connected and collaborative learning looks like, and is like for your students and for your teachers. Right now I see most of the effort going into arguing about acronyms and which tool to use. We should be having rich, messy, sometimes inconclusive conversations about what critical, key things we want our students to learn. Those conversations should be based on what we see in front of us every day, namely our students and their needs. Instead we're focusing on the shiny tool that looks like it's from the future.
We are the future. Our choices shape the future. We should hold ourselves responsible for that future. We should pay attention to that.
So yeah, it's hard and complex, and we need to figure it out the best we can. We need to keep sharing our ideas and talking more.
But I don't expect my students to throw their hands up and stop because their work is hard. I expect them to keep honestly striving to make sense of the problem and demonstrating the maximum effort to solve it.
I believe as school leaders and mentors and teachers, we should be doing the same.
Of course technology doesn't work. Technology doesn't do anything. People do. - Seymour Papert