Russell is right on the ICT case

18th May 2012 at 01:00

Last week's letter "Ditch the hype in ICT-speak" epitomises the attitudes that lead to the frustrations expressed so eloquently by Michael Russell and other speakers at the Learning through Technology (#learntech) conference.

I also work in a local authority - East Lothian - supporting schools with their use of ICT, but feel I have to reject the views expressed in this anonymous letter. These are, of course, my personal views.

What Mr Russell sees is that we are much further behind than we should be in exploiting technology to improve learning in our schools. We are already behind in terms of schools connectivity, in access to equipment and development of staff skills. Of course, politicians will have had some part to play in that, but at least he's not in denial.

Not only do we urgently need to catch up - we also need to avoid falling behind in future. That's a real risk when technology is progressing ever faster, while we're looking for ways to cut costs.

We are in the midst of a period in which ICT is moving from being an end in itself - "ICT projects" - to being as embedded and pervasive in schools as it is in further education, industry and in everyday life. It's that gap - becoming ever more obvious to learners, teachers and parents - which Mr Russell was addressing.

There is, of course, no need for us to open up Facebook access for pupil phones: they have it anyway. And in one limited pilot project we have under way, in which students can access Facebook on school computers, we're discovering that they're choosing to use it to pull in excellent evidence, captured on phone cameras, for use in learning artefacts they create and share.

Of course, there's a balancing act to be performed as we learn how to navigate this new and exciting environment, just as there is with outdoor education, excursions and other expeditions - but we need to learn by doing, and not avoid the journey entirely.

Indeed, one of the criticisms of the current Glow solution has been that originally, by almost completely avoiding the web, it was safe to the point of being dull. This is not a criticism of those behind the project: it had to be accepted by all local authorities, so couldn't help becoming a kind of lowest common denominator.

It's inevitable that new technologies go through what Gartner terms a "hype cycle". That shows progress through stages of technology trigger; peak of inflated expectations; trough of disillusionment; slope of enlightenment and, finally, plateau of productivity. What it doesn't show is any exception for schools. If a technology has passed the "inflated expectations" stage and is in widespread, ubiquitous, productive use outside schools, that's a pretty good indication that there's something wrong if schools can't use it well.

The students in our schools who get by with inadequate computer provision, poor connectivity and endless blocked websites won't see Mr Russell as a "drooling geek". They'll welcome his efforts to try to bring their education up to date. We should all be grateful for that support, and his engagement in this debate. It is making a difference.

David Gilmour (DavidRG).

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