Don't be technophobes, says Russell

27th April 2012 at 01:00
Embrace pupils' use of technology, don't discourage it, he urges

Education secretary Michael Russell has told schools and local authorities to get over their technophobia and make smartphones and the other gadgets that pupils carry in their pockets a normal part of classroom learning.

It was "absolutely extraordinary to encourage use of ICT in schools but discourage the way individuals might access it elsewhere", Mr Russell said.

There was palpable frustration among delegates and speakers at this week's Learning Through Technology conference at the timorous approach by officialdom that was holding back many teachers. One prominent former education director branded the situation a "disgrace".

Mr Russell described blocking the use of smartphones and tablets in school as "artificial" and said it put up barriers between children's behaviour in and out of the classroom. He called on educators to "bridge the gap between home and school".

"We should never limit and turn off potential," Mr Russell said at the event in Edinburgh.

One delegate challenged Mr Russell's support for Glow, the intranet for Scottish schools, arguing that it was a barrier to children accustomed to Facebook and Twitter.

"That's a profound problem," conceded Mr Russell, but he insisted that the forthcoming new version of Glow would have "an approach much closer to that open type of platform".

He also promised that Glow would be opened up to further education colleges, after John McCann, director of next practice for Scotland's Colleges, said: "One of the enduring moans of the college sector is that we have not been part of Glow."

Access to technology at school level was being inhibited by a "draconian reaction" at national level to a handful of incidents where civil servants had lost laptops, East Lothian Council web officer David Gilmour told Mr Russell.

The education secretary said he too was sometimes frustrated by security levels and would prefer a "much more proportionate response", including less complex password entry to Glow.

Websites popular with young people - such as Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet, Moshi Monsters, and even sometimes the BBC - were too often blocked, said Bruce Robertson, who spoke on behalf of Engage for Education.

"It's a disgrace that public bodies are blocking learners' access to these sites; that's something that has to be addressed in the new generation of Glow and in our IT policies," he said.

IT giant Apple was represented at the Holyrood Events conference by Janet Wozniak, a member of its worldwide IT and learning technologies group, who cited Harvard research identifying three steps to becoming a "digital school": substitution, augmentation and redefinition.

Schools should be wary of substitution - doing the things they have always done but channelled into technology such as the iPad - as this added nothing to teaching and cost more.

But some schools adapted very quickly and reached the "redefinition" stage in two weeks. "Once teachers become digital teachers they can't go back to being analogue teachers," she said.

Sites to behold

The following sites should be accessible in schools, according to former education director Bruce Robertson:

LittleBigPlanet is described by its makers as "the manifested embodiment of your perfect dream world". Initially created for the PlayStation 3 in 2008, the emphasis is on user-generated content.

Minecraft was created by Swedish independent games developer Markus Persson in 2009. Players use blocks to build "anything you can imagine". In its "survival" mode they must fend off monsters and find food to stay alive.

Moshi Monsters is a social networking online game, targeted at primary-age children, which allows players to adopt their own monster. Each one has a unique personality that develops according to how it is cared for. The game was created in Britain in 2007 and has been described as "Facebook for kids".

Original headline: Russell tells schools to get over technophobia

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