I feel a little pang every time I open a new packet of paper to feed to the photocopier. For almost two years I went without the use of photocopies after another department stole our number and racked up nearly £2,000 on the account. I decided we’d just not use photocopies, and only print on our own tiny printer which was sat, conveniently, just behind my desk. With the money saved (one of the few administrative successes of my reign as HOD) we were able to buy books. Lots of them.
We read and wrote. Pupils used their exercise books to write in. I know, pretty retro, right? Now, did I ever think about instead purchasing lots of iPads? Did I think about digitalising everything? Did I think about engaging pupils in the joys of the past by using C21 tools? Well, sort of. Actually, I wondered what would happen if we didn’t use iPads. And so we did trial them, but I very quickly saw there was little scope for GodTech, at least in my subject. I’m not saying there’s no use for tech (visualisers are fab, Google Earth is superb and I am a sucker for large, full colour photographs and art), but in the basic study of history we need a pen and some paper. I know this isn’t the case for music, but for most subjects it is.
And so, having coming across this today, I give you Exhibit A.
This is a flowchart designed to help gently nudge us towards using tech.
Let’s say students are digitally annotating a source (a piece of poetry, a cartoon, a quote – whatever). Is this better than using paper? If we say no, then we – according to the chart – need to think again about the activity: tech needs to drive it. So, ‘upgrade’. ‘Update’. Source analysis 10.3. If we say yes, then we ask whether it being a digital activity is what makes it better: if no, great! Carry on. If yes, we again need to upgrade our activity. So the activity, and the tech, drives the learning.
Now, to be fair, the website this is from does state that ‘Being paperless does not increase student engagement or improve learning.’ If it does, great. If it genuinely reduces teacher workload, then also great. But I can’t help feeling that this is really all about dragging the perceived classroom Luddites into the here and now, just because the here and now is, indeed, here and now. I mean, the whole site is about using tech in the classroom.
It also says ‘If you don’t ask “how can I make this better” then it won’t be better.’ Well, that might be true. But if by ‘better’ we actually mean ‘what I think and Apple’ then we’re probably stuck in our own wicked domains, where the apparent expert is the person most likely to give advice they’re familiar with, and thus gain kudos when it some kind of change is enacted. David Didau writes about this here.
In this case, y often appears exciting to pupils because it’s different, and because they have to interact with it in a way they’re either unused to – hence the excitement – or are potentially more familiar with than their teacher, thus giving them the feeling of expertise. In their feedback, pupils give a glowing response whilst teachers have to admit that the class enjoyed it.
Except, of course, this is nonsense. The class enjoying a new trick should be as little a surprise as it is relevant to their learning. Enjoyment of something might well lead to more ‘engagement’, but if your subject can’t do that on its own then perhaps there are more important things to focus on than investing your limited time into a piece of new technology, for example.
What really troubles me about this type of subtle kettling, as it were, is that those naysayers who aren’t coming up with new ideas every ten minutes find themselves first left behind and then fighting a losing battle. They’re shamed into not changing, whilst others are rewarded for hot-off-the-shelf quick-wins, neatly parcelled, packaged and persuasive.
One way we might get round this is to ask a deceptively simple question: what would happen if we didn’t do this? So, to take the initial example, instead of stating that students will digitally annotate a source, why not consider what would happen if they didn’t digitally annotate it? What cannot happen unless the annotations are digitalised? Will the space-time continuum implode? Probably not.
But this is really hard when, as the above diagram shows, x has a reputation for being innovative. However, if we’re really so keen to be taken seriously as a profession then we need to insert circuit breakers into our thinking. I asked what would happen if we didn’t photocopy – what would we have to do instead? It turned out that the benefits outweighed the potential problems.