Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Computers don't make people smarter

This really is an epiphany from last Wednesday since the staff sharing and the subsequent meeting with the Infocomm bigwig of our cluster:

ICT is not and can not be used to deliver content. If it did, we might as well substitute ourselves with a netbook, then we can get on with more important things in our lives... like defeating Diablo in 'Inferno' mode.

Sadly for us, that's not going to happen. Content delivery is still firmly within the domain of the biological facilitator, i.e., yours truly. Someone still has to maintain discipline and focus in the classroom, and that someone isn't likely to be Facebook or YouTube (or 9Gag, or whatever).

So why all the fuss about ICT? We're looking at it all wrong (I'm on a roll!). ICT does squat for Teaching, so we shouldn't even bother going there. Besides, we're the teachers, so that's our job. What it does best is enhance the Learning, and that's where we should be focusing our attention on with its use.

The main idea is to move our classroom culture away from spoon-feeding each individual kid towards a whole new skill-set in which the kids can pick up on the trail of breadcrumbs we leave for them and establish launch-pads from which to explore and learn more on their own. So within our so-called ICT lessons, what we are really doing with the kids is to demo how marvelously these wonderful new toys work so that they will decide to start using them on their own.

At the most basic level, with backchannel logs like todaysmeet, we can gather real-time feedback on how our (biologically facilitated) lessons are going; identify common problem areas; and use the feedback to plan subsequent lessons to address these difficulties. By posting queries and seeing that they are really being addressed, the kids should be gaining the confidence to start taking their first baby steps towards independent learning. When they start reading beyond what they are required to learn for the finals, that would be utopia -- but that eventuality is out of our hands. It's up to them, but it'll be us pushing them in that direction.

The communication part of this technology is what gives the kids the opportunity to teach each other outside of classroom time. We plan lessons requiring the kids to collaborate on, say, textual analysis using a crocodoc, and co-author a long response with a titanpad. Google docs works well for both, and with the built-in templates you can make pretty worksheets too, if you're into that kind of thing.

Our objective (if I may remind us again) is not to teach a content point, but to teach them the rules of collaboration, the rules of engagement, to set the social environment in which the kids realize that when they combine their different strengths on a task, they more than make up for their individual weaknesses. When the kids start trusting each other with their learning we don't lose the one teacher, we gain 20, 30, 40 new teachers the kids can learn from. That's where we are going with ICT. Computers don't make people smarter; people make people smarter.

ICT offers the opportunity to turn the kids from individualistic passive learners (which we turned them into for the sake of classroom management) to socially participatory ones. If we're looking for a KPI, it shouldn't be about how much ICT we use to teach in class, it's how much ICT the kids are using on their own in order to learn better.

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