On the Great Tweeting EdTech showdown

Big duke off between two educators on Twitter this weekend. In the Tech Corner with the funky specs it was Jose Picardo. In the Trad corner with the Tweed shorts it was Martin Robinson.

All day Saturday, into Sunday and… still at it as of Monday evening. (No marking for them, because Jose has a robot doing his, while Martin’s students homework is to practice Latin conjugations in the mirror).

To sum up:

Martin: Technology should be ripped out of schools (later downgraded to ‘used less often’), with some claims that some teachers are pre-set to Powerpoint mode, which is odd because I would have thought most teachers are pre-set to ideas and knowledge on syllabus mode. We all agree with Martin that professionals shouldn’t seek out tech for techs sake, but as Jose countered, this says more about poor teaching than poor tech.

Martin: Tech. Faustian. Pact.

…no, lost me there. I’ve read Faust, but can’t recall any mention of iPads.

I agree with him: young Faustian natives may well be too immersed in screens. Personally, I hope that it’s in educational contexts that they learn that they can use those screens more meaningfully, less passively (or for watching people play Monopoly, as some of my students tell me. OK, Martin, you win). Yet knowledgeable practitioners like Jose ensure they will and this debate further illuminated some people’s lack of confidence with how to use.

I am also concerned, as I’m sure Martin is, about quality provision, the richness of conversation, the future role of the educator, the dilution of nuanced ideas into bullet-point tidbits (I could argue most study organised into constrained syllabus offers only glazed immersion into ideas, by whatever method it’s delivered, offering more to those with an intrinsically gleaned curiosity).

The problem I have is that none of the above has any clear relationship to learning technologies beyond speculation. Carolyn Marvin (1988) talked about how claims of ‘boosterism’ that surrounded the 19th and 20th Century innovations in telephony and electricity were countered by social concerns.

Martin offers research studies and media reports that claim the same: concerns about apparently authentic values being undermined by the technological determinist view that it wields an influence over social and psychological forces, regardless of context, or – more importantly – how such tools are being used. Yes, we are in a highly material age, but we have for some time been in a highly material age of reproduction, of convenience and corner-cutting; but if nothing else, the weekend Thriller in December Tweet-down showed that dialogue still thrives, while reflecting how technologies are socially shaped and socially shaping.

I suggested that the whole debate was pointless. There’s always research to contradict research. There are always challenges and opportunities and more challenges and more opportunities to make from them. People will choose to do what they do, using what tools and methods they wish. People have different paradigms. Meanwhile, progress progresses.

Technology has traversed a few Moore’s Laws since a similar Robinson v Picardo was played out by Clarke and Kozma over the formers famous ‘media as a neutral vehicle’ remark. Now, in Web 2.0 we have a more “participatory web”, more advanced tools with which to realise pedagogical practice, and we may be starting to find more ways to potentially isolate and analyse the variable affordances and empirically see what’s enabled.

Anecdotal bit

In FE, on this re-sit course I teach on, we have huge problems with engagement and – particularly –attendance. The social network I use with my students is routinely visited by them and is a free service that we seldom use in the classroom.

It may be obscure to isolate its use with improved success in results, but I didn’t set it up for that, I wanted to try to construct Communities of Practices. Nor do I view results as its primary affordance: communication is the affordance.

Some of the GCSE re-sit students I teach have, quite outside of my direct influence, used it to support themselves. They situate their selves to it “as a base” – where they would use textbooks in Maths, according to them. They also openly share answers and information and socially support one another’s affective issues; mobile and agile they ask for feedback, for clarity, for resources. We’ve blended its use into lessons to facilitate collaboration, to allow more opportunity to do creative work (otherwise difficult, given the time intensity of the course) and set up Open Publishing of work with student community feedback (this they claim has helped their confidence with writing). It’s improved wider ICT skills with adults obtuse to computers, it’s pulled people back onto the course through social cohesion of the community; it has supported a student’s successful completion after moving from the area and continuing the course. It supports multimodality: dyslexic students who have posted videos and images interpreting language techniques, who report that they can re-read materials to understand them, checking with me or others, and even one who reports that he subsequently routinely corrected his grammar on Facebook after using it and helped to teach his kids to read from doing the course and its constituent elements – one part of which is the online social network.

These aspects of social learning may not be measurable answers in an exam; the description may even be regarded as pop-psychology. They may not be evidence. They are not ground breaking or original. They are qualified by my research. This may not improve critical thinking or knowledge of Triumvirate (what?). Well, all contexts are different… but please can we stop viewing the square root of education as grades and qualifications. When you teach adults who have been let down by schools (or themselves, or whatever cirumstance chances upon the marginalised) in the past, you can see incredible, human values of education. Further Education. That face-to-face classroom interaction is highly necessary. The rest is a bolt-on, possibly necessary, bonus.

The causal link between these things with the network is disingenuous. I cannot claim soundly that ‘it’ caused any or all of these things, but ‘it’ – just like the classroom it mimics, transcends and replicates on screens all around town – plays its part. Teachers and institutes say so, research says so, and students’ have said so. Would we dispute them, most of all?



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