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A Mixed Economy in the classroom!

31 May

A recent article has suggested that the more traditional teaching methods of the Finns puts them ahead of the tech-heavy approach of the Americans. Technology is not a silver bullet for education, and indeed can get in the way. The article mentions note-taking so let’s take that up. There is no doubt that notes can be taken on electronic devices – but the devices do not offer particular affordances for that, indeed are clumsy and limit what you can do. Paper, on the other hand offers the perfect technology for note-taking! It is flexible, and allows for drawings, diagrams, text and doodling – all of which have been shown to be beneficial. A tablet, on the other hand is difficult to use for note-taking: what offers affordance for text,  is dysfunctional for drawing, and vice versa.

In a pen and paper environment the teacher can concentrate on critical thinking strategies, such as the Cornell note-taking strategy. Technology and pedagogy need to work hand-in-hand with each other. We need to fit the technology to what it is that we want to do in the classroom. We also  need to be clear that technology does have a place in the modern classroom. The Interactive Whiteboard is not just a souped-up blackboard. It’s ability to open up a connected world of collaboration with others is transformative, and when that’s what the teacher needs to do, the affordances it offers for education should not be shunned. Technology and pedagogy need to work hand-in-hand! And that means a mixed economy, both pedagogically and technologically.

I would further argue that we need to envision the modern classroom as a connected space in which teachers and students have a range of choice over what technologies they use for any given task. The cost of that connectivity, wifi architecture, and Interactive Whiteboard is high, so we need to ensure that the cost is brought down in all other respects. Thankfully most software one could ever need is available for free. Fantastic learning Management platforms such as Moodle or Edmodo are free, and relatively easy to maintain. The ever-increasing ubiquity of mobile devices also brings down cost. Most students have usable devices, and schools can initiate joint purchase/ownership agreements to implement BYOD programmes.

But once implemented, we need to understand that sometimes the Interactive Whiteboard will be switched off, and sometimes cell-phones will not be allowed on desks! We also need to understand that sometimes constructivist learning must needs give way to instructivist approaches.

There is a growing orthodoxy which argues that technology use leads to a transformation from instrcutivism to constructivism, and we need to nip this idea in the bud too. Sometimes the best way to teach is to tell. In fact any discovery learning session that does not include some instruction is likely to be thoroughly wasteful. We need a mixed economy of technology, and a mixed economy of pedagogy.

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