Technology? Teachers can't keep up

27th April 2007 at 01:00
But computer whiz pupils are only too pleased to help them with the latest developments, Jonathan Milne reports

teachers should not even try to learn to use new technologies as they will always be behind the curve - and look stupid in the eyes of their pupils.

This surprising advice is the outcome of a study by Marc Prensky, a consultant and learning-game designer whose clients include IBM, Bank of America and the US Department of Defense.

One pupil interviewed for the study was brutal with the truth. "Don't even try to keep up with technology - you can't. You'll only look stupid," she said.

The argument that pupils are "digital natives", at ease in an electronic world that technologically illiterate adults struggle to comprehend, is familiar.

A 15-year-old girl said: "Teachers are from the olden days, when you actually had to memorise phone numbers."

But Mr Prensky rejects the idea of sending teachers to regular crammer courses on how to, for example, use interactive whiteboards, make podcasts or post on websites. Instead, teachers must let their pupils take the lead in using technology, which could be hard for many to accept because it means relinquishing their "I'm the only one in the room who knows" status.

The good news is that while teachers may not have the technological edge, they do have a better understanding of the learning objectives, or why technology is useful in the wider world.

Mr Prensky says: "YouTube videos, hot today, will be replaced by something even better tomorrow. Our kids are already moving beyond MySpace. Flash, the programming language of the moment, will be a flash in the pan."

Even those teachers who want to keep up with technology - and many do not - will not be able to do so. One Liverpool 14-year-old said: "You really have to slow down when you talk to teachers."

But teachers can evaluate students' use of new technologies and can teach about where those technologies fit into life and learning.

Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, may be an inconsistent information source and a consistent refuge for plagiarists, but teachers can harness the medium by encouraging classes to contribute, writing about their local communities and traditions.

Many schools ban mobile phone cameras, in case someone takes photos in the girls' changing rooms. But they can be useful in collecting and sharing evidence for science classes or illustrating word images in literature.

Podcasting? Teachers should not be creating podcasts for their pupils, but allowing pupils to podcast, then evaluating their work.

As one 15-year-old said: "Just ask us. We're happy to help."

* 'How to teach with technology' by Marc Prensky, in 'Emerging Technologies for Learning', Volume 2 (Becta)

* If you are working on a project you think is relevant to TES readers, please email adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Teachers will have to learn to work with computers that are no longer boxes on desks, but invisibly embedded in everyday objects, places and even people around them.

The era of ubiquitous computing, where everything interacts wirelessly with everything else, from buildings to wristwatches to pupils' trainers, may be far easier for pupils to grasp than their teachers.

David Ley, of the education technology agency Becta, says computers will become like electricity: we will use them without even noticing them.

COMING SOON

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags can be embedded in just about anything to track its whereabouts. Brittan elementary school in northern California faced an outcry when it required pupils to wear RFID badges to locate them around the school and identify absentees.

By 2010, there will be an estimated 70 million mobile phones with Global Positioning System technology in Europe - and a fair few of those will be in your classroom. Even the most mundane objects will be electronically "tagged" with information - some educational, some constituting little more than digital graffiti - which children will be able to access on their phones.

Inertia sensors in Nintendo Wii controllers detect movement; "smart dust"

can be spread widely to report, for instance, on weather conditions. These will give pupils access to a wealth of shared data, whether from the playground or from further afield.

Context information will inform the miniature computers carried by teachers and pupils, whether by stopping a mobile phone ringing in an exam hall, or reacting to a user's voice, heart rate, skin or facial expression.

Source: 'Ubiquitous Computing' by David Ley, in 'Emerging Technologies for Learning', Volume 2 (Becta)

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