The Dehumanization of the Education Process?

Fears about digital learning tools are especially tricky because they’re primarily emotional, not logical…. The fear drives some schools to ban cellphones, disallow students and faculty from using Facebook, and lock down Internet filters so tightly that useful websites are inaccessible… Some educators see these types of responses as principled stands against the shortcomings and hassles of digital technologies. Others see them as rejections of the dehumanization of the education process by soulless machines. Often, however, it’s just schools clinging to the past and elevating what is comfortable or familiar over the potential of technology to help them better deliver on their school missions.
Scott McLeod

One of the most delicate aspects of the debate about our education system today and the potent dynamic that surrounds this narrative is the implicit assumption that, if we want schools to change, it must mean that teachers are resistant to change or somehow less competent than we wish them to be. This is simply not true, but it’s a complex scenario that needs to be carefully considered. When the need for school change is discussed with teachers, the following, valid points frequently emerge.

  1. How Do We Know This Is The Right Direction? Do we really know that providing students with 1:1 technology, for instance, is the right way to go or should we consider reverting back to pen and paper? Do teachers really need to maintain a social media presence and be savvy digital learners? The fact is, our job as educators is to support our students. We know this is the right direction because our students have left the station and are ahead of us in many regards. 
  2. Where Do We Find the Time? The pace of work in our schools is often  frenetic and demanding already, and then we expect teachers to do more, to find space somehow to engage with social media, to develop students who are fluent in digital literacy, to become creators of digital content themselves. There are no easy answers here, except both school leaders and teachers themselves need to identify the things that we need to stop doing – those legacy issues from the Content Era – that are no longer vital to learning.
  3. Why Must Teachers and Schools Always Be Criticised? All professions face constant change in the 21st Century. We know that we have an obligation to consider how technology has transformed the learning landscape and to ensure that we are adapting accordingly. Becoming current with the digital learning landscape is not a moral imperative or criticism: it is our job. We operate in the context of the day.

The teachers I work with do their best to negotiate these questions. They are committed to students, they try hard to eliminate redundant content and assessments to create more time, they know that this is about the student perspective, not themselves. It is an ongoing journey in which there are few shortcuts.

I enjoyed working with technology integrator, Scott McLeod recently and I was energised by his ideas about learning. His fundamental point can be summarised as this: If we are not familiar with and actively engaged in the landscape our students inhabit, how can we guide them effectively? I know that some people will have found his perspective on the need for change perturbing. I found McLeod’s interactions with teachers to be professionally thought-provoking, sometimes provocative, and occasionally challenging. I heard from teachers an overwhelming endorsement of the desire to do what is best for our students, but also some legitimate fears. Are we in this together? Will we be supported? Will you give us the time? If we fail, will you blame us? All valid concerns. But each time we unduly dwell on these questions, given the pace of change at which society and technology is moving, the gap between where we are and where our students need to be widens.

The job of school leaders in the broader context of school change is therefore to provide clear answers to the legitimate questions that our teachers raise. To provide the support, reassurance, time and context not just to help them move to the next level, but to recognise and acknowledge their considerable achievements to date, and the fact that they operate in a constantly, sometimes daunting, evolving domain. Moreover, we need to consider the perspective of George Couros who reminds us that, if we expect teachers to model technology integration because students benefit from this, then leaders need to do the same:

There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning. We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.This is not optional anymore.

If we expect teachers to be learners alongside students, it will require leaders to join that conversation, too. The business of doing what is necessary to support our students in their contemporary context is not a matter for debate for anyone involved in education in 2015.