A recent event I attended, ahead of BETT 2020, led me to think about the place of technology in education. A simple typology would be to look at teaching, learning and support as three different areas where technology can be involved in schools. Of course, the first two are an arbitrary distinction, and technology can cover both teaching and learning at the same time.
I was interested to see the use of the term AI by many exhibitors at the HMC deputy heads conference I addressed last Friday about teacher supply matters. After all, TeachVac uses sophisticated and proprietary AI to handle job vacancies much more efficiently that say the DfE vacancy site that requires schools to upload every vacancy they have created.
AI is still at an early stage, and as a phrase can raise false hope of a new era for learning that are generally not yet justified. However, one only has to think of the rise of ‘contactless’ in the payment field to see the speed of change.
Contactless, as with smart phones and especially their cameras, demonstrates the problems of technology and inter-generational use. How many heads use contactless payments; how many teachers above 40, and how many teachers below the age of 40 don’t? The same can be asked about any photos taken during the summer break, and also how they were swapped; displayed or generally archived.
The speed of change has an important relationship to the power structure in schools. Are head teachers aware of what is happening and what represent good investment for the future and are they prepared to delegate downwards to those that understand technology and can make the case?
My first job as a teacher involved responsibility for hard technology in the school – 16mm and slide projectors, plus reel to reel tape recorders – and I recall asking for a video tape recorder to help both the drama and PE departments with their work. The first time the kit was used, the 6th form group entering the local one act paly festivals swept the board. They were a great group, but I hope seeing their rehearsals played back made them even better.
In the 1990s, I wrote that we were on the cusp of a revolution as profound as the introduction of printing in the 15th century. Looking back to the changes in the past quarter century, and how it has affected power relationships across the globe, I don’t think I was wrong. You only have to compare what is going on with Extinction Rebellion now with the CND protest of the 1950s and 1960s.
Scrapping BECTA in the Tory bonfire of the Quangos was probably the right thing to do; not replacing it with an advisory body on technology and education was a serious mistake.
I suspect that unless this blog post attracts attention, technology and the role of big tech and start-ups in education won’t feature in the general election: it should do so. Will 5 days a week and 40 weeks a year be the norm for schools for another 10 years, let alone for another 150 years it has been the framework for learning in this country?