Future is found in classroom culture

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Futurology is a risky business. When you review the predictions of the transforming effects of technology on education over the past 30 years, it's hard not to agree with John Gardner at Queens University, Belfast, that, on the whole, "The future has been a disappointment". Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and decided to take as my theme for the TES Keynote at BETT this year "The Best Practice Awards 2015". By then of course we will have dropped the ICT as it would make these the equivalent of the "best practice using paper" awards. Instead the focus will be entirely back where it belongs, on teaching and learning. So what might best practice look like in the era of ubiquitous technology?

In the first category we would have Best Reflexive Practice. The evidence for this award would be clear recognition of what was being learned, and how, and attempts to modify the management of the learning to make it even more effective. The role of the technology would be to monitor and re-present their learning to students and teachers, giving them the information they need to reflect, reconsider and design their next attempts.

The second category would be for the Most Effective Co-learners. This award would recognise the best examples of team learning. Groups of individuals with complementary skills, teachers, learners, designers etc united across age and stage by a common purpose - to extend their own understanding and skills, enriching their lives as they become more powerful personal knowledge builders. Here the technology offers them a shared working space in which they can manipulate and explore aspects of reality in a complex and challenging virtual world that they can build on and enhance as they work as designers, testers and users of the evolving system.

The third category is Best Collaborative Learners. Here the judges are looking for clear evidence of sharing, discussion and development between small groups of learners who work together to achieve a common purpose.

Reading through these categories a reasonable reaction might be - so what's new? Surely we see evidence of reflexive practice, co-learning and collaboration in classrooms today. However, my selection of winners of these awards are supported by technologies, especially software, that is prototypical and in development through a range of projects involving partnerships between Nesta Futurelab and a range of commercial partners.

This software makes possible the kinds of practice valued by my 2015 awards in ways that current technology does not easily do, not least because in these projects there is sufficient access to kit that is fit for purpose.

But more than that, these software environments are designed to support learner autonomy, and investigative teaching and learning, in ways that are rare in much of today's digital content. And then there is the fact that the shift from didactic teaching to guided learning, and from individual to team working, are not ones that are obviously supported in the whole-class, test-dominated culture of 2005. Advances will ultimately be less about the the technology we will see in the next 10 years, and more about changes in the culture of our classrooms. The projects show the teachers and technology are up to the challenge - the question is, are the politicians?

Angela McFarlane is professor of education and director of learning technology at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She is the TES keynote speaker at BETT 2005 on Thursday 13 January at 10.30am in Seminar Theatre A

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