Student: “My teachers won’t let me take a photo of the Whiteboard…” (Are you serious?)

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 8.49.07 pmOn the heels of my previous post about why some teachers fail to realise the efficiency gains of technology, Today I had a conversation with a teenager that went like this:

Student: “My teachers won’t let me take a photo of the whiteboard with my iPad.”
Me: “Are you telling me, they make you copy off the whiteboard with pen and paper?”
Student: “Yes”
Me: “How many of your teachers do this?”
Student: “All of them!”
Me: “Are you serious?”
Student: “They tell us that copying the board will help us remember and understand the information better”
Me: “And do you think it does?”
Student: “No, I’m usually not even thinking about what I’m writing; I’m just copying down the words”

I don’t buy for a moment that students will remember or understand information significantly better by copying! Telling that to students is as disingenuous as it is absurd! When I read the morning newspaper I don’t need to copy out the news stories in order to comprehend them! When researching a topic of interest I read relevant articles, maybe make a few notes and save them to Evernote for future reference but I don’t transcribe the articles in full onto loose leaf! What makes anyone think that copying paragraphs of text from the board will make students remember or understand? As you began reading this blog post, did the thought even cross your mind to start copying it out with pen and paper to aid your understanding? Of course it didn’t! That would be a prodigious waste of your time and would make little to no difference to your comprehension.

Let’s be honest. The real reasons teachers make students copy information from the board are:
(a) It pads out the lesson with busywork, so a very small amount of learning will use up an entire period (It reduces the teacher’s preparation time : class time ratio).
(b) It is the easiest way to “wing it” when a teacher hasn’t prepared a genuine and engaging learning activity.
(c) It keeps students seated, quiet and under control.

In 1989 copying information from the board was a practical way for students to collect a body of examinable subject knowledge to learn (i.e. memorise / encode), because schools didn’t have photocopiers, students didn’t have cameras, and nobody had Google.

In 2015, valid reasons for using a whiteboard might include sketching a diagram to answer an extemporaneous student question, teaching basic literacy skills (character formation, perhaps spelling) or to capture a group brainstorming session. A whiteboard is useful for that kind of thing. (And don’t be ridiculous – if your students have smartphones, let them take a photo, if it helps them!). But I can’t think of any good reason for entering class, with the intention of writing screeds of informational text on the board for students to copy like it were still 1989.

It’s a squandering of class time – a great example of wheeling technology, instead of riding it (to borrow the metaphor from my previous post).

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Teacher: “I don’t have time to use technology in my teaching”

A teacher said to me “I don’t have time to use technology in my teaching”.

What a strange thing to say! – I can’t think of any other professional occupation in which people feel that computer technology slows them down, gets in the way and makes their work less efficient? In other professions it reduces friction, increases productivity and saves time (and money).  That is why those industries least forgiving of inefficiency, are most invested in computer technology.

I don’t think the teacher I spoke to is alone, either (I think her feelings are quite common among teachers, actually). And what’s more, I don’t doubt that she is right! Technology probably does make her work less efficient. But that is because she’s doing it wrong.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 5.37.57 pmSteve Jobs said that a computer is like “a bicycle for our minds” meaning that it magnifies the efficiency of our thinking the way a bicycle improves the efficiency of our locomotion. I love that analogy – and I think it’s very true, but it does, of course, assume that you actually ride the bike (rather than wheeling it alongside while walking). In order to ride a bike, you have got to stop walking. You can’t do both. If you’re not prepared to give up walking, then the bicycle is a hindrance.

When teachers describe technology as a hindrance to their work, I say that’s because they are unprepared to let go of their old methodologies. Instead of “riding” technology, they’re “wheeling” it alongside their old teaching practices.

What Schools can Learn from Spotify

spotifypuck

One of my favourite quotes is from hockey superstar Wayne Gretsky (AKA “The Great One”).

“I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is”

In a fast-moving game like ice hockey, if you skate to where the puck is, you will be irrelevant to the game when you reach your destination. The only way to influence the outcome of the game is to predict where the puck will be and position yourself there.

Music distribution trends give us a good read on where the access-to-stuff puck is going.

  • In 2002 Silverchair released “Diorama”. I waited until Saturday morning, then drove to Sanity and bought a copy, and took it home to listen to.
  • In 2007 The Killers released “Sawdust”. As soon as I got home, I downloaded it in iTunes, and half an hour later, copied it onto my iPod so I could listen to it, anywhere.
  • In 2012, Muse released “The 2nd Law”. I downloaded it directly to my iPhone and listened to it in my car on the way home.
  • In 2013 Daft Punk released “Random Access Memories” and I didn’t even have to download it first. I simply streamed the music and started listening immediately. Streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and [my favourite] Rdio –  allow you to listen to music on demand without even waiting for a download to complete! – and without having to make a commitment to it (Ie. virtually for free).  That’s the new way to access music and everyone will soon be listening that way (if they are not already). Even Apple has started skating in that direction with their WWDC announcement of the soon to be launched and predictably titled “iRadio” streaming music service.

Just think for a moment what this represents in terms of our expectations for content delivery:  In 2002 we were fine with “wait a few days to go and pick it up”. Now we expect to “wait a few minutes for it to download”. Rapidly our expectation is shifting to “don’t wait at all!”. The importance of this is not just  increasing convenience or decreasing wait time, but it’s in how these factors change our behaviour. With the advent of online music download services, my music collection grew in both volume and diversity. Now that I can stream music through Spotify, my behaviour has changed again. My listening has become even more eclectic.

It would be a mistake to think that this trend is restricted to the music industry. I think we are seeing it in all kinds of areas of our lives. In 2002 students with interesting ‘goss’ would wait till they saw their friends the next morning to share it…

It’s remarkable how many schools block their students’ access to YouTube and iTunes, or whose teachers still offer education in a way that more closely resembles buying from Brashs, than streaming from Spotify!  “Biology is at 11:00 AM tomorrow in Room F6.”  

Or how many teachers still walk into class to write encyclopaedic-type information on a whiteboard, or hand out photocopied documents – as though that information wasn’t readily available to anyone with access to Google?

If we are providing knowledge-based information, in a way that requires students to be in a physical place at a specific time to receive it – we are not skating to where the puck is going.  Actually, we are not even skating to where the puck IS – we are skating to where it USED TO BE!