Friday, 20 February 2009

tech changes all...?

I wrote this for my Guardian Column in Spring 2006

Sometimes technology brings about changes before those guiding an industry realise. Teachers all over the world have seen how new technology has given children the ability to make powerful short movies themselves. Five years ago they were having fun just playing with the kit, but these days they want a voice and are using video to make that voice heard on bullying, politics and much more besides. In cinema, too, low-budget independent movie-makers have also stopped playing and are seeking a voice, often conveying powerful messages. George Clooney's recent BAFTA nominated anti-McCarthyite "Good Night, And Good Luck", was made cheaply with new technology and filmed in black and white with George directing and writing for a nomimal fee. I was lucky enough to attend the Bafta awards, dinner and glamorous party even though I'm some distance from being a fashion icon. At the Baftas David Puttnam, was receiving lifetime award. David had abandoned film making feeling that there was no longer a way to make powerful films with a message; however, he thanked Clooney for winning that opportunity back for the whole industry. Somehow though, the Bafta members had slightly missed all this, and they settled for a cosy, big studio movie for many of their votes. How could they miss such a substantial and obvious change?

Well, education has missed a few changes too. And this causes real problems when it comes to evaluating the impact of investment like new technology on learning. When we spend money to add computers into the learning equation, what do we measure to convince treasury colleagues that it was all worthwhile? To explore this, I'm engaged in a substantial Microsoft-sponsored project to build a Learning Metric, to help people like UNESCO or the World Bank be clear where educational investment, especially ICT, has been effective. Essentially this will be a big complex computer model showing gains and costs, but what variables should be measured? One might look for literacy improvements in the widest sense, or world-class numeracy, but also hopefully for a bit of joy, engagement, better attendance, motivated teachers, impressed parents, growth in national income and so on. We can measure all this, but we must be sure to include the new gains in learning too. All around the world countries are pouring money into ICT in different ways, but are other countries' investments proving more effective; what transforms literacy? what reverses disengagement? what retains teachers? what works?

ICT has allowed many countries to re-examine their whole education systems and so, inevitably, I'm helping many to plan significant educational change. For example, 18 months ago the Caribbean was hit by hurricane Ivan. Grand Cayman island was flooded to the point where it disappeared from satellite view for some hours. But the Ivan the Terrible started a process of renewal and repair. A new Cayman government, the People's Progressive Movement (PPM), came to power. They promised children that education would be transformed and ICT lies at the heart of this. Even without hurricanes, transforming education in the 21st century is complex. So many things must move forward together, not just ICT alone: professional development, examinations, curriculum, architecture, expectations, parents, and more. The Cayman Isles are moving away from the computer suite to a fully wireless nation, are making the most of one laptop per teacher, using ICT to celbrate children's performance and creativity, asking ICT to transform their data collection to aid policy decisions, and harnessing new communication technologies to link their schools with others worldwide. The PPM got off to a really good start by immediately asking to hear the views of all interested parties, from children to employers, and committing to those views in a published document. To maintain their pace, it will help to have clear metrics showing where ICT, CPD, or new architetcure are working, and where they aren't. Walking round Cayman schools recently, there was an optimism, a glint in the eye of their learners that suggested their new journey of change had begun. Technology changes everything and now, all I've got to do, is work out how to measure, and nourish, that optimism. I think I need another rum punch.

© Professor Stephen Heppell 2006

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