Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Where's the "Pencil Room?"

In the interests of full disclosure, I'll just point out now that I am an ICT specialist teacher and I teach ICT lessons in an ICT suite. The room consists of approximately 30 desktop units and each class currently, has at least one 40 or 50 min. lesson each week. I have also been a classroom teacher for more than a decade.

In a post that I was reading the writer attempted to balance the pros and cons of using an ICT suite. In the end, the writer, in my opinion, didn't really seem to take a position either way.

As the saying goes, "where is the pencil room?" I cannot understand why we continue to have segregated ICT lessons where children must travel to a separate room to use a tool which, if the school is serious about technology integration, should not exist in the first place.

Just as we do not travel to the "pencil room" to use pencils, we should not also be traveling to a separate room to use computers. I have heard the argument that it is a best case scenario for schools with limited funding or for using resource hungry software such as for audio and video editing. In my experience, this argument has only limited justification. Such an argument often overlooks or belittles the accompanying costs of running such a full-blown room, in terms of electricity, manpower and space.

If we expect children to treat technology like a tool then our ultimate goal should be integration such that the use of the technology is seamless and children as well as teachers use the technology in a matter-of-fact way without fanfare, without traveling to other parts of the school, without having to wait for a weekly lesson and without causing a discontinuation in the middle of a learning moment.

I look at it in this way, suppose a child is in the flow of a creative moment. To now expect that child to suddenly stop, travel to a new room and maintain that creative flow is expecting more than what we would reasonably expect of many adults. If we expect our children to be creative, we need to provide the tools for them to be so with ease and efficiency. No one I know in everyday life leaves where they are, to enter a special room to use a computer, and then leaves. Even classroom teachers have their computers on their desks, within easy reach, for easy access. We have smartphones, tablets, netbooks and laptops, all these forms of technology close at hand. Yet, the "computer room" lives on.

Many writers have argued that there is a need for ICT lessons to teach specific skills. I have yet to hear however, an argument which suggests the teaching of those skills could not also be done within the classroom except in very specialised and specific situations. To expect children to internalize, remember, and apply the skills taught in a single lesson each week is, I think, being unrealistic.

Think for a moment, if we were discussing learning a language instead of learning technology skills. How successful would the student be learning, let's say, Russian, if they only had a single lesson of 50 min. once a week. Furthermore, how much less successful would that student be if no one ever gave them the opportunity to use what they had learned except within that one 50 min. lesson each week. I would ask, how much will the child actually retain of the language lessons? Furthermore, how well will they actually apply their understanding?

We could argue, a similar situation arises with ICT lessons that occur once a week and are not supported or poorly supported in the classroom. In reality, a far more successful method, in my experience, is the little and often method. As long as the class teacher knows, and understands, the technology curriculum for their year group, over the course of an academic year they can, through small but often opportunities, not only cover the curriculum within their own classroom, but actually offer a multitude of extension opportunities for children who excel in that area on the spot, when needed. Some may argue that a "Technology Curriculum" cannot be covered appropriately using the "little and often" method, I would suggest that the curriculum clearly needs modernising because it clearly is not relevant to the needs of today's students.

While I can understand that, for a variety of reasons, there are some classroom teachers who are still wedded to the concept of ICT lessons taught by a specialist teacher in an ICT classroom, myself, I cannot wait for that situation to end.

What do you think the future of ICT Suites is (or should be)? Do you have experience teaching in an integrated environment?


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