Dare To Be Different

Now that schools are recommencing, or about to recommence, it’s time to give some thought to trying something new, or doing a traditional thing in a different way. You may ask why, given the old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. But I think it does a lot of good to shake things up a bit now and again. You’re unlikely to cause any damage; you will probably do a lot of good.

Here is my top tip for rocking the boat – in a creative sense, of course!

Imagine the future.

Around 13 years ago I wrote a scheme of work in the first Unit of which the kids had to describe a library of the future. Bear in mind that the web was in its infancy, yet I distinctly remember one contribution which stated that in the library of the future, you wouldn’t have to leave your home. You would select and order the books from an online catalog, and then they would materialise next to you.

Well, we haven’t got quite that far yet, but as a member of the British Library I can select a rare book from an online catalog and it will be ready for me to look at the next day in the Library. And, as a member of the Royal Society of Arts, I can order a book from the catalog and it will be sent to me by post.

Now, perhaps 13 years on thinking about the library of the future may seem like old hat. But it could be anything of the future. The key thing is that by engaging in such an exercise, youngsters benefit in the following ways:

  • They can’t be wrong. Unless you’re blessed with the gift of precognition or your name is Nostradamus, you can’t say for certain that any idea they come up with is incorrect, no matter how seemingly outlandish! But...
  • ...They have to extrapolate from what they already know, making this a good check of their technological awareness. That’s one of the rules of this ‘game’: they can’t merely indulge themselves in fantasy, their ideas have to be extensions of their experience or knowledge, to some extent at least. That’s because they need to have some way of doing the exercise described in the next bullet point.
  • Once all the submissions are in, it’s fun to take two or three of them and explore them further. What’s the basis for the projection? How likely is it to materialise? What would help or hinder its implementation? Is it, indeed, desirable? An exercise like this not only requires logic and incisiveness, but can even take in moral and social issues. Indeed, one or two ideas might even form the basis of a project in citizenship or social studies.
  • It exercises the right side of the brain, the creative side. I think this is really important: educational technology is not just about logic and spreadsheets and redrafting (as valuable as such things are). It is, or should be, creative, imaginative – in other words, fun.

And in case you’re concerned that all this is very well, but won’t help you cover the educational technology curriculum, think again. Such an exercise can easily involve the following skills:

  • Writing, using a word processor.
  • Redrafting and reorganising ideas.
  • Presentation skills.
  • Research skills, as part of the exploration of the idea’s feasibility.
  • Debating skills.
  • Collaboration and teamwork skills, if you ask students with similar ideas to work together.
  • Social and moral awareness, as already mentioned. Many syllabuses include a section addressing the effects of technology on society.
  • Spreadsheet skills, if part of the extension work you set is for them to try and cost out their ideas -- which could be part of the exploration of its feasibility and, therefore...
  • ... Economics skills: If the idea is technically feasible and eminently desirable, but financially out of the question, how could it be financed?

As you will have realised, some of these suggestions would involve collaborating with other subject teachers in the school in order to derive the most ‘mileage’ from them. You could even try and book an outside speaker to address the students. You could set up a Ning and invite students from across the globe to comment on their ideas, and suggest some of their own.

In short, imagining the future is a great way of invigorating the students by injecting new life into the subject.