Learning Tech Labs – Technology in Schools

The most recent Learning Tech Labs event took place on February 10th in Google, Dublin. Its focus was firmly on secondary education and technology. As was noted by an attendee, the distinction between technology education and technology in education is often muddled.

The first speaker of the evening was Claire Conneely, Google Ireland’s Education Programme Manager who discussed Google’s education programmes for students and teachers and their commitment to interest in computer science and cultivating STE(A)M education subjects including Google Science Fair and Inspiring Girls.

I’ve some misgivings about the race to teach to everyone to code. Yes, we’re surrounded by computers and should have a good understanding of how they function rather than passively consuming apps and content on them. That said, we’re also surrounded by internal combustion engines and semiconductors but we’re not being told that every adults school going aged child should acquire an intimate understanding of either to make themselves more employable (unless they want a career in engineering) or even to be an interested citizen. Instead the often overlooked benefits of an understanding of computer science are the consequential ones such as training in logical and computational thinking.  As this excellent article in Mother Jones  on coding as the new literacy argues:

“ The computational approach is rooted in seeing the world as a series of puzzles, ones you can break down into smaller chunks and solve bit by bit through logic and deductive reasoning…If we want computers to be able to compute for us, then we have to accurately extract these models from our heads and record them. Writing Python isn’t the fundamental skill we need to teach people. Modeling systems is.”

That’s the real benefit of teaching people to code as well as making them more employable with new, marketable skills.

Dr Joseph Roche from Trinity Access 21 was up next who talked about the Postgrad in Technology Teaching that TCD is offering. Often there are misgivings from teachers who feel that they may never know as much as their students and while they may not match students in terms of technology knowledge, students are often not as knowledgable in certain areas as we might think. This is often the case when learning something by ourselves – we focus on our interests and leave the rest behind. Access 21 is free (mostly, there is a nominal cost) to teachers and definitely worth considering if teachers want to cultivate innovation and technology teaching in the classroom

Marianne Checkley from iScoil was next. iScoil is an online learning community which allows school leavers to re-engage with education. The causes of early school leaving are complex so iScoil encourages students through in-person mentoring, personalised learning and online content and activities to instil and interest in education as well as build confidence.

Learning takes place in dynamic, fluid educational settings rather than the strict regimen of the traditional classroom. This flexibilty allows students who may have chaotic home lives to react to circumstances and continue learning. As Marianne said “pedagogy should lead the technology” and often it’s the other way round.

The clear message is the changing role of the teacher in terms of professional identity as mentor, tutor, learning designer, facilitator, app developer or teacher. It’s iScoil’s intention to make the most of technology using, where fit, Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and clearing the space in schools to experiment and explore new strategies.

Sean Gallagher from PDST (Professional Service Development for Teachers) finished the evening talking about teacher professional development and policy changes required for technology education. According to an OECD report from 2015

 “Technology can amplify great teaching but no technology can create a great teacher”

We are at a point where information and access to information has moved from scarcity to abundance. Tools like Google’s Cultural Institute give teachers and students access to a vast collection of learning letting us get closer to works of art than we could in a gallery and making education come alive.

Malcom Knowles oft cited principles of adult learning (andragogy):

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

can be applied just as easily to children’s education (pedagogy) when stimulation and motivation are provided. How may adults would endure the format of education we expect school aged pupils to be engaged with? As Ken Robinson said in his famous TED talk:

If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget”

As a counterpoint –  while the benefits of both technology to education and technology education are hard to doubt I would be interested to know what the speakers thought of UCC Professor Tom Butler’s paper on technology as distraction in the classroom in which he maintains that we’ve exaggerated the benefits while downplaying the potential harm he sees it may cause, namely sleep impairment and distraction triggered by multi-tasking.

As Clay Shirky, argued in his Medium article Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away:

Computers are not inherent sources of distraction — they can in fact be powerful engines of focus — but latter-day versions have been designed to be, because attention is the substance which makes the whole consumer internet go.

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