This was a great day! It’s a bit difficult to summarize my views and thoughts about this first day at the BETT Show 2013 but I will try to anyway. In the first place, I think that the venue is just great. It’s awesome, and huge…
During the first day, especially during the first part of the day, it was very easy to get lost. Secondly the place is so huge, the exhibitors so many, that no amount of maps will help in trying to focus on where to go, who to talk to and what to see. It’s like a huge feeling of helplessness as you’re continuously bombarded with information.
It took me a while to find where I had to go for the conference I had registered for which was Technology in Higher Education, and the first session I attended was the one by Richard Watson: The Architecture of Uncertainty. I thought it was a pretty good talk, albeit some of Mr Watson’s remarks, were in my opinion rather bold. I did agree with quite a lot that he said though. Some interesting remarks he passed concerned the use of iPads by adolescents. In Malta, right now, there is quite an amount of debate going on, as both political parties, in their race to win the upcoming elections, are throwing off promises of huge amounts of technological gizmos and gadgets, as if there is no tomorrow. Both are, in my opinion, far off the mark and have very little idea of the implications and consequences of what they are saying. Mr. Watson in fact, during this first talk, gave some insights into the dangers associated with literally throwing in technology tools in the classroom. First of all he started with a bold statement that iPads given to 10-14 year olds is killing off the teachers’ ability to engage students. Although certain technology devices, provide a variety of sources of information, one has to depart from the premise that creativity needs fostering from a variety of sources. He described how many applications are heavily formatted and this can cause an issue when it comes to creativity because most of the things that can be done within these applications, are standardized in a way that students cannot go beyond the set parameters of the same technology. Future cannot be predicted – the future is rather uncertain with more than one possible outcome. Although once again, in Malta, many are saying, books will be changed to e-books, Mr. Watson says “Forget that all books will be e-books”. All predictions have hidden assumptions. They fail to take into account desires and wishes of users. Analysts look at data from recent past experience – but the way things are changing we cannot. The way our society is changing cannot be predicted.
So we have to ask ourselves: “What is education for?” I wish to ask politicians in Malta these questions: How would you define education? Do you think the role of education, TODAY, is to pass exams? Or to instil a sense of belonging or create a sense of initiative? Because answers to these two questions, by necessity demands a completely different strategy in the adoption of technology.
It is interesting that many people here at BETT are speaking about the Tsunami of technologies hitting the classroom. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is leading towards better literacies or better people emerging from the formal education system. This view was also echoed in a separate talk delivered at the BETT Arena – Global Voices in Education. Bette Chambers, revealed in a very insightful talk, that studies and research are showing that the increased use of technology does not necessarily improve learning. Now here I cannot afford to be misunderstood. I, an advocate of the use of technology
approaches in the classroom, am not saying, let’s go back to the 20th century classroom.
I am totally against the ‘sage on the stage’. I am totally against mass standardisation. I am totally against preparing our students to become factory production workers. I firmly believe that education has so much more to give. Bette Chambers says: Technology is a tool. Would you use a hammer to paint? The same applies to iPads in the classroom! She says: Technologies will only have an impact on student learning if they are used appropriately. If we really want to include tools and approaches in the classroom the one important question we have to ask our politicians is: if you want to tamper with education, and start adding stuff to the classroom, what evidence is there that this will improve learning?
The keynote by Anthony Salcito, the VP of Microsoft, was also quite insightful. He spoke a lot about technology and also about what we are doing with technology. Technology is NOT the issue of our education failures. It’s all about changes and attitudes.
He asks: how technology can be best served? It is all about the PEDAGOGY. And in Malta, right now, pedagogy is the one word which is the most overlooked and under-rated.
Another interesting talk was delivered by Dave White, on the use of Social media at Higher Education. Social Media is all about presence. We don’t need to make a distinction between the real and the virtual when it comes to social media. The university setting has changed: geography is no longer the key marker for where you are. WiFi is the students’ favorite technology. Of course students cannot engage unless they get online. The second favorite technology is Google. Now I ask, in Malta, we have placed the interactive whiteboard in the classroom, we are going to provide tablets, etc. BUT what about the Internet infrastructure? Some schools still lack WiFi connectivity. How can you employ a technology if the technology doesn’t exist. What about the Internet sites? Why is it that in Malta sites that teachers and students can access are still controlled by a civil servant at MITA? Why is it that when I ask my student teacher trainees to access a variety of educational sites from a classroom in a school they are told that all the sites are by default blacklisted and teachers don’t have the full rights to actually manage what goes on in the online classroom? What are we expecting to emerge from such a system. We are trying to put out the fires of creativity and innovation, rather than spark them off by standardizing everything and by making sure to remove any decision making power teachers may have.
I think that the majority of speakers during this first day of BETT have emphasised that teachers and educators really hold the key to the best education we can give to the learners, of all ages, and coming from all directions of life. It is not just about technologies or tools, it’s all about empowerment, empowerment of teachers, empowerment of students, empowerment of the community. I listened to a really nice talk, delivered by 10 year old kids, who were describing the way they used technologies during one typical day at school here. They had no fancy gadgets or gizmos, they simply used Google. But rather than just Google, it was the way they were using it, how they were using the apps, what they were getting from them that was the key.
I think that we really need to get our acts together when it comes to Education. There are too many people out there taking decisions for us educators without proper knowledge of what is really going on out there, and without proper reference to studies that have been academically validated. We, as Educators, have a great lot of tools at our disposal. Many are free, accessible, open and even flashy. But it’s up to us, to tell decision makers what we need, and what we require to make Education good!