Technology in Schools : Why change?

A little history first. Back in 1998/1999 the school I was working at The Cornwallis School, in Kent which was just starting to flex its muscles as quite a forward-thinking establishment in terms of its use of ICT. Our school was a pilot school for the Microsoft Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL) project in which we gave 2 tutor groups or year 7 students a laptop each. When people were told we were kitting out 60 kids with laptops there were a lot of raised eyebrows and doubters that the scheme would have any benefits.

As part of the introduction to parents and staff, the Deputy Head gave a presentation that contained some excellent quotes from teachers and educationalists down the years complaining about every new development such as paper, fountain pens and ballpoint pens. It was a very effective argument ;)

I was reminded of that presentation the other day with a post on the blog Learning is Messy. I must learn to trawl archives before posting, because much further back is another post with all the quotes the Deputy Head used.

I’m going to repost them here since I really like them, and I am using this blog partly as a brain dump for myself so I know where to find things in the future.

Students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend on their slates which are more expensive. What will they do when their slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write!”
Teachers Conference, 1703

Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
Principal’s Association, 1815

Students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”
National Association of Teachers, 1907

Students today depend upon store-bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words of ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”
The Rural American Teacher, 1929

Students today depend upon these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib (not to mention sharpening their own quills). We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world, which is not so extravagant.”
PTA Gazette, 1941

Ball point pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American virtues of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”
Federal Teacher, 1950

For proper attributation, these quotes are apparently from David Thornburg’s book Edutrends 2010: Restructuring, Technology and the Future of Education (1992). There is another good blog post over at The Fischbowl that makes the same points.

This argument was taken further by Ewan McIntosh over at Edublogs over the recent news that a teaching union wanted students not to bring gadgets into school and stick with a pen. While I can understand that shiny new toys can be a distraction and there’s a chance of bullying and having them stolen I can also see the benefits of embracing these technologies and putting them to good use.

I don’t use a paper diary, I use my (rather battered) PDA. I set reminders to do things on that or on my phone. I have a poor memory for some things, so if I want to remember something (a web address in an article or the details of something I see while out shopping – I use the camera in my phone to take a picture of it to remind me later. I dump web addresses and good websites onto Del.icio.us or onto my forum. I use the technology to help me, why can’t we educate the students to do the same?

I don’t think I have much more to add to the debate that Karl and Ewan have already eloquently said, only to say I agree with their sentiments and to ask what if we had listened each time someone resisted new technology? Would we still be using slates and chalk?

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Author: Danny Nicholson

Danny is an author, Science teacher, ICT Consultant, PGCE lecturer and computing / interactive whiteboard trainer. He has delivered training courses across the UK, in Europe, and in Canada. Please get in touch with your training requests.

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