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Technology WILL NOT save education

August 31st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Another article reporting from the European Conference on Educational Research held in Helsinki last week.

Most of my time at the conference was spent working on our Amplified project, using multi media and social software to turn the conference outwards and improve the experience for face to face delegates. More reports on this work later in the week.

But I did get to go to two sessions. The first was a symposium entitled ‘Technology WILL NOT save education – views on teaching learning and researching in the Digital Age’ .

Here is the abstract:

Deeply immersed in the Society of Knowledge great efforts, including the use of educational technology have been carried out in order to improve education. Changes in the cultural contexts where education takes place have posed new questions both in educational practice and research. Very often changes in educational practices are subject to factors within the context where they are  pursued and it is probable that the results vary depending on different cultural factors.  Within the field of Educational Technology it becomes essential to manage cultural change in order to make technology happen.

Educational institutions have to provide answers to all agents involved in the educational field: a change of methodology is needed and, in many instances, this will depend upon cultural factors. Thus, cultural contexts have to be taken into consideration in their policies and activities.  Cultural change does not come with technology but with the transformation of educational practices and the revision of  traditional  methodologies. The role of educators is key the same as the position of educational institutions which have to provide the means to facilitate cultural change.

The emergent social networks and Web 2.0 applications have given way to a great variety of educational possibilities which may help consider students, not under traditional categories of race, class and gender but instead taking into account local and global contexts and diversity. Web 2.0 applications are powerful socialization and communication tools that support the process of construction of knowledge and can have an incredible educational potential for instruction.

This symposium seeks to provide a forum for the presentation and discussion of research in different fields which provides an outlook from different points of view of teaching, learning and researching in the Digital Age. Its departing point is the assumption that technology will NOT save Education unless cultural change takes place.

The different papers  in this simposium try to account from different viewpoints for aspects which aim at improving education. Thus,  the first paper discusses the need of  networking culture in different disciplines regarding approaches and practices of researchers which have made use of web technologies.   The importante of networking is also revised as a catalyst of social and educational change. The second paper deals with the construction of a new model of curriculum more in relation to new learning needs and approaches  and the eminent role that educators play on it, especially considering their adaptation to change and their practices within teaching and learning processes. The third  paper deals with the use of Personal learning Environments as systems that help learners be in control of their own learning process by setting goals sharing ideas and  managing learning content in both individual and group basis. The last of the papers faces the educational potentialities of Web 2.0 applications as powerful socialization and communication tools that can support processes of knowledge construction and can have an incredible educational potential for Foreign Language instruction.

I chaired the symposium, with my good friends Linda Casteneda, Ricardo Torres and Maria Perifanou presenting and Mar Camacho acting as discussant.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the format, not wishing to do the usual 3 25 minutes presnetations with a short time for questions and discussion. Instead we reverted the usual order, with Mar opening by presenting a brief overview of the ideas behind the symposium and then inviting delegates to provide a brief opinion about our approach.

We then had three ten minute presentations from Linda, Ricardo and Maria. Linda presented research she had undertaken at the University of Murcia in Spain. Basically, despite efforts to introduce technology into the curriculum for student teachers at the university, she concluded little had changed in terms of teaching and learning practice. Her conclusion was that technology on its own will not change anything. To make effective use of new technologies requires fundamental curriculum reform and the development and adoption of new pedagogies for teaching and learning. Ricardo and Maria both reflected on instances of effective practice, drawn from their own work. Ricardo looked at the development of Personal Learning Environments in a programme he teaches in Barcelona. And Maria reported on the development and use of webquests for teaching Italien in Thessaloniki. It had been our intention to group the different issues raised by delegates and speakers and use them to break into smaller discussion groups. However in the end the range of issues and the different levels of experience of participants led us to move towards a single group discussion.

The discussion was successful in terms of the active involvement of nearly all the participants. However it tended to be unfocused. A series of different issues were raised. One prevalent concern was that the rigidity of assessment regimes prevented innovation in pedagogic approaches. Another was the resistance of school and institutional management to change. A third was the attitudes of students, who while expecting the use of technology in teaching and learning, were still reluctant to take control of their own learning processes in the way required for effective use of new pedagogic approaches.

Other issues included digital literacies and teachers dispositions towards using technology for teaching. Whilst they were happy to use it for preparing lessons, for presentations and for administrations, they were less comfortable to use it for teaching and learning in practice.

One interesting issue was who should “set the agenda” for change. One participant was concerned that the way technology was being introduced in education was taking away ‘agency’ from teachers in the classroom.

It was a enjoyable session. But whilst most seemed open to and supportive of our hypothesis, there was little consensus on a way forward.

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