Traditional wisdom can temper high-tech savvy

26th July 2013 at 01:00
Henry Hepburn

In 1945, Glasgow Corporation published the infamous Bruce report, with its radical plans for redevelopment. The city centre would be flattened and people decanted en masse to tower blocks and new towns. The plans even included knocking down iconic buildings such as Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Central Station, the City Chambers and Glasgow School of Art.

Across the UK, old buildings had come to represent an impediment to progress. Razing them was seen as a common-sense move, a clean break from squalor, overcrowding and a burdensome wartime past.

It is hard to understand that utopian impulse now. With decades of hindsight, the planners who bulldozed city centres in favour of motorways and ugly shopping centres seem like cold-hearted pragmatists at best, vandals on a grand scale at worst.

In 2013, Scottish schools are caught up in a tide of rapid change. Digital technology is moving on so quickly, its endless innovations are so impressive, that dishing out tablet computers to all and sundry seems the sensible thing to do.

We should be wary of the seductive marketing of Apple, Microsoft, Samsung et al, with its echoes of that post-war architectural paradigm sold to the masses: old = bad, new = good. But the point is not to be suspicious of new technology; rather, it is not to be so enamoured of new technology that we reject the past.

In any time of rapid change, critical distance becomes more important than ever. Education Scotland's Derek Robertson, then, has been performing a crucial role. Over six months, he visited schools around Scotland to scrutinise how technology such as tablets and smartphones were being put to use.

Mr Robertson, national adviser in emerging technologies and learning, has been at the vanguard of digital learning for years - in 2006, TESS reported on his plans for a Scottish centre to promote learning through computer games. But he is no cheerleader. He is wary of "shiny, shiny tech" and its ability to beguile; he reminds us that technology must add something to classrooms, not just do old stuff in a glitzier fashion.

Mr Robertson uncovered inspiring examples of technology's ability to fire young people's interest and open new doors. There was the boy so absorbed in creating animation that he did not even consider what he was doing to be learning; the school where 87 per cent of staff felt that iPads had made students more interested in learning. But he does not gloss over those less inclined to jump in feet first to the digital future: another boy found pencil and paper the best technology for harnessing ideas.

The Bruce report came to fruition only partly. Somewhere along the way, people decided that it might be worth holding on to the Kelvingrove and the City Chambers. Let's not chuck our pencils and paper in the bin just yet.

Henry Hepburn, TESS reporter

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