One of the things that the education community is not especially good at, in England at any rate, is thinking in what I call three dimensions. I’m not referring to 3D technology or Virtual Reality or anything like that, but something at once both far simpler and, apparently, much harder.
The three dimensions I’m referring to are:
- Thinking about what other organizations are doing.
- Thinking about what has happened in the past.
- Thinking about what the research might have to say.
Here are examples of what I mean.
Some years ago I visited elementary schools and high schools in a school district, to get an idea of what they were doing with education technology. One high school teacher, in charge of Geography, greeted me breathlessly:
“Hey, Terry”, he said. You’ve got to see what I’ve been doing with my 14 year olds. We’ve been doing databases.”
He showed me examples of their work, and I had to admit it was pretty good.
“That’s great”, I said. “Excellent. In fact, I thought it was excellent last week, when I saw the same thing in a class of nine year olds.”
Fortunately, he took it in good spirit and didn’t escort me off the premises, but the point was made: no matter how unique, original or brilliant you think you’re being, you really do need to take time to check out what other schools are doing too. In this instance, I pointed out that when some of those nine year olds come to his class in a few years’ time, they are going to expect something a little more challenging than they were doing five years before.
Another example. I keep reading or hearing talks about how in England, nobody ever taught computer programming until our curriculum was changed from ICT to Computing. Apparently, all people taught kids was how to use PowerPoint, Word and Excel.
If that is really true though, where have all the current computing teachers come from? Did they all just teach themselves how to code?
And all the books I remember using, and the courses I and thousands of other teachers taught — were they just a figment of my imagination? Am I and thousands of other teachers suffering from some kind of false memory syndrome?
And how come we’ve even got programs like Microsoft Office and thousands of apps, if nobody was ever taught how to program?
If these people were to acknowledge that they didn’t just invent computer programming, they would be in a position to learn from the past what the challenges were, whether in teaching or assessing computing skills.
And now my final example. There are thousands of school principals who have latched on to a new idea or a new product, without the slightest concern about whether anyone has undertaken research into it, let alone what that research might say. As a result, there are far too many naked emperors around for comfort.
In conclusion, what teachers, principals and the education community as a whole needs to do is think, before they implement something new:
Is this being tried in another school? If so, can we learn from their experience? Could we work with them in some way?
Has this been done in the past? If so, what can we learn from it?
Has there been any research done into this? If so, what does it say? What are the pitfalls? What are the factors that can lead to success? And if not, why don’t we undertake the research so that we can go forward in a state of knowledge, rather than in a state of ignorance?