Light Offerings

Is digital innovation in schools possible?

Posted by jturner56 on May 2, 2016

We live in disjointed times. Exemplified by Sydney Grammar’s ‘ban on laptops’ up against the Australian Prime Minister’s call for innovation, allied to calls for innovation requiring a digital mindset. Innovation that requires digital mindsets, willingness for reinvention, investment in new ideas, understanding of process, product, technologies, organisational structures and behaviours, as well as corporate culture changes, leadership change, and willingness to compete. Where should education sit within this?

A journey through how laptops have been viewed in schools may provide some illumination. Bob Johnstone’s (2003) Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning documents the largest ever digital innovation to hit schools. It charts the historical hopes (realised, ignored and subverted) of what could, should and has happened when students were given access to computers. At its heart is a belief that digital can (and should) provide each student with more control of their learning (which I believe and can testify to).

Starting with research-based investigations of what is possible, through to the introduction of 1:1 laptops in Melbourne, Australia and then in parts of the USA,   Johnstone document the hopes, aspirations, and unrealised scalable potential of digital personal learning devices within education. While the book finishes in 2002, and predates  the impact of social media and personal digital devices such as smartphones (as well as only touching on the mainstream impact of the web), it links early days with contemporary positions of the learning power that digital can provide. It documents the personalities and places where 1:1 laptops and its antecedents found favor, as well a reasons why they fell short. At the centre was the first 1:1 laptop school, MLC, led by its head David Loader in Melbourne, Australia, starting in 1989.

Interesting to revisit characters and events when I was there or thereabouts for some of the moments described in Johnstone’s book.

While the belief in computer as solution justifiably falls short, the possibilities in education when teachers generate scaffolded challenges and mediate open learning environments continues to be valued in open-minded educational environments, even if still running up against school standardisation philosophies exemplified by external testing and segmented curriculum.

To do true justice to what digital can provide education, curriculum development needs to evolve to build curriculum that embrace

– digital literacies
– project-based learning that value ‘what can you make with that learning’, and- enterprise opportunities to enable educational bridges to be built to new value systems

I remain convinced this can be done parallel and in conjunction with traditional cognitive training structures. But it requires leadership in Education which unfortunately too often falls short of what society needs. And social leaders that can take a lead in this as well. This is where true innovation is needed. Loader and MLC in the late 1980s demonstrated what could be started, but as Johnstone documented, this is but an entree to what is needed. He concluded

So what about the students caught in the gap between the receding and oncoming ideas? Do these kids have the right to be educated “in the medium of their own times?”Of course they do. The question is not whether, but when.

This remain apposite.




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