“We don’t need no on-line textbooks”

So far I don’t think I’ve blogged about much to do with educational technology. I’ve long held the belief that IT provides an extraordinary opportunity for the creation of exciting new resources that really support learning in ways that far extend the limitations of a conventional printed textbook. But in more over twenty years of waiting I’ve still to find anything that gets me very excited.

There seem to have been a number of factors that have led to this situation. First to blame are traditional educational publishers who have resiliently clung to what they understand best – the conventional textbook format. They are still stuck in the mind-set of IT being used to ‘automate’ existing processes and products, and have yet to understand that IT provides opportunities to do things differently. The other culprits are the new-media companies, which tend to be run by ex-educational TV producers and as a result place value on telling stories, using cartoon characters and often excessive animation: while some of these might be entertaining and to an extent engaging they often remain superficial and lacking in sound learning gains.

So I was pleased to read this recent article in which the author discusses how we need to look beyond the current textbook format.

The video clips included in the article serve to demonstrate the misunderstanding that the future is still a single-source textbook, but with added videos and audio-clips and a web-site with some sort of social networking site. But the future is much more complex than that and educationalists, technologists and publishers ought to be discussing the more basic issues of how to teach learners how to retrieve data from multiple sources – sometimes by looking broadly, and sometimes by drilling down. Meanwhile the role of the teacher needs to become more of a guide, pointing the way towards the right pathways to make sure students pass through the places they want and need to visit. At the same time they need to ensure that learners are analysing, evaluating and building on what they discover.

And of course the whole examination/league table system needs to change so that schools do not see their main priority as controlling learning very precisely to ensure students have covered the very narrow range of learning that exactly fits what they need to pass their exams, and no more than that.

Despite the proliferation of PCs in our schools, there’s still a long way to go before we learn how to use them effectively and effectively. We have yet to acknowledge that the new generation of already interconnected children are accessing, thinking about and interacting with the world in very different ways to those of their teachers.