Virtual reality

4th April 2014 at 01:00

It has become tricky to make it through any teacher development session without being manically enthused at by a technology evangelist. They lurk like cult members at a London Tube station, ready to leap out and induct anyone who has full pockets and waning confidence. They tell us that everything about our practice will be 100 per cent better if a plug is involved at some point. Our students will bask in the warm glow of their screens, begging for more of our teacherly wisdom, and our peers will hoist us skywards, chanting at the top of their voices "Out-stand-ing! Out-stand-ing!"

In fairness, some of the ed-tech magic really does enhance teaching, offering a heap of inventive and engaging methods to motivate even the most uninspired. It isn't the value of these that is the problem, however - it's the cost.

There is often a horrifying lack of awareness about the reality of resources within colleges. This is frequently twinned with crass assumptions about students' access to expensive pieces of kit in their outside lives. It seems as if some of these ed-tech evangelists have never set foot in a college, or met a student (at least, not the sort of students I've worked with).

The truth is that there is little digital consistency across colleges. One shiny campus may be at the technological forefront while a forgotten site down the road may be a barely working relic of what it used to be 30 years ago. "No problem," the evangelists say. "Get the students to bring in their own devices."

I admit that I would find it a stretch to function without technology for more than an hour or so, either in my personal or professional life. I am a fan of new technology and I'm fortunate enough to have the resources to acquire bits of it. What I am not a fan of is the assumption that all students are in the same position as me. Many are not.

Thankfully, the tech-botherers have an answer. "Students don't have their own smartphones? Get them to share with people who do."

Imagine you are 16. You've scraped together your bus fare to college. You don't have the clothes, the handbags, the nail extensions or the laptops that your mates have, but you style it out and no one's the wiser. But, of course, you are more than aware of all the things you don't have, the holidays you won't go on, the nights out you can't afford. How would you feel if the one place that is supposed to be safe from material judgement, where you are supposed to be celebrated for your effort, became another arena where you were at a disadvantage because of the things that you don't have?

It's true that most students have access to the internet on their phones, but many are so nervous about the potential impact on their bill that using the internet connection is out of the question. Flipped classrooms, remote learning and the like do not recognise the economic reality of my students. So, I will take the evangelistic materials and pop them on a pile marked "I don't think so".

Sarah Simons works in a large further education college in Mansfield, England

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