Publications;Hands on

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Learning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School. Edited by Norbert Pachler and Marilyn Leask. pound;14.99. Routledge.

AS an overview of contemporary orthodoxies in educational information communications and technology (ICT), this collection of essays is a useful contribution. Unfortunately, it also describes itself as "inspirational". The danger of the term is that unless the editing is razor sharp, the quality of material can fluctuate-and here it does to the extent that some ofthe musings on the future are simply mundane.

Worse still, like most educational ICT texts this book ignores the lessons of the outside world. While ICT's impact has been felt, it has not achieved significant change in UK classrooms either in theory or practice. Industry and business, which admittedly have less complex objectives, have managed change through technology in far more profound ways. However, none of the authors try to discover how or why this has been achieved.

One of the most startling things to happen in classrooms in the past year is the introduction of interactive whiteboards - seeing one in action with a skilled teacher can be a revelation. So it would have been valuable to find the issue debated in a book published in 1999. No such luck.

Most teachers live in their subjects, stimulated by specific advice on how they can teach better. So it's a shame this book takes a generalist approach, and advice on the matter that teachers care most about is tackled only superficially.

Surely it is helpful to reassure teachers new to ICT by telling them its use in a conventional classroom is difficult. Years ago, the educational technology guru Seymour Papert likened the introduction of ICT to schools to fitting a jet engine to a stage coach - there is an initial gain in speed before the coach is wrecked. Papert advocated building an aeroplane - "only then will we experience the genuine power of the engine," he said. That is a pessimistic conclusion but it does indicate that ICT is a disruptive force and very difficult to use in the present structures. Professor Larry Cuban, professor of education at Stanford University, put it another way: "New technologies do not change schools: schools have to change before they can make effective use of the new technologies".

Unless we face up to the criticisms put by people like Papert and Cuban, the use of ICT in schools will be like using a plaster for cardiac problems. Unfortunately, that is what this book seems to advocate.

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