Technological change and grumbles in the staff room

I wish I could travel back in time to the era when children in school stopped writing on slates and started writing on paper and in exercise books. It must have been the most tremendous shift: students could accumulate a bank of their own written work and it no longer had to be carried entirely in their memories. Rote learning and the ability to recall facts was the backbone of a traditional education.  Can you imagine being a fly on the wall in the staff room of the day, when Masters would bemoan the flagrant waste of valuable paper, the new plague of inkstains and the erosion of standards?

A century or so on and our attitude to memory is changing. In their future lives, today’s students will have a different attitude to memory and I’m guessing they will rarely have to remember lists of facts or dates, recite quotations off by heart or recall the appropriate formula to use for a calculation. Instead of a body of facts taking top intellectual priority, perhaps a skillset to include the following will be more sought after:

  • resourcefulness: knowing where to look for information
  • mastery of the specialist vocabulary required to enter the appropriate search terms: sometimes the hardest thing is asking the internet the right question
  • discernment to appreciate the quality of the information at hand
  • perspective to enable the compilation of different elements from varied sources in a sensible manner
  • understanding to manipulate that finished picture into something meaningful and coherent that answers the question asked and moves the learner on to the next thing.

So back to the staff room, where sceptical grumbles roll on in this century like they did in the last about the demise of traditional educational standards. Those standards simply are no longer the best measure for excellence in today’s society. In fact, they might never have been: nostalgia is a wonky yardstick with which to measure the present. I suspect a proportion of educationalists have always clung to the past and always will, whilst others throw themselves headlong into change. We are all human.

Perhaps it is worth reminding those sceptical colleagues that technological shift isn’t new. It has been changing the way learning happens for over a hundred years across the developed world. The chalkboard, the pencil, mass-produced paper, the OHP, slide projectors… you can map quite a history of development before computers even arrive.  (Read more about changing classroom technologies here) The pace of change continues to move onwards and more and more teachers and educational leaders are taking steps to ensure their students are not left behind. A few grumbles in the staff room are hardly going to hold back the tide!





7 Responses

  1. Old Andrew March 11, 2012 / 5:36 pm

    There is such a person as a historian and such a thing as a history book. We don’t need a time machine. We know that if there was vocal opposition to writing on paper it was not on such a scale that we have much record of it now.

    What we do know from history is that the claim that attempts to downgrade knowledge by considering it to be nothing more than “rote learning” date back over 100 hundred years, as do attempts to replace knowledge with vague and poorly conceptualised aims such as those on your list. We also know that it has never resulted in any great leap forward, and has often resulted in widespread concern about low expectations and standards.

    A much more honest narrative about education can be found here:

    • Laura March 11, 2012 / 10:39 pm

      Thank you for your comment Andrew. My post was an illustration of how sometimes people forget that the maintenance of the status quo can itself represent a degrading of standards and expectations: an own goal indeed given that we all want the best for our students.

  2. Alex Bellars March 11, 2012 / 10:55 pm

    You may not agree with the thrust of Laura’s post, Andrew, but surely you will agree that it is poor form to criticise her “honesty”?

    • Laura March 11, 2012 / 11:00 pm

      Thanks Alex!

    • Old Andrew March 12, 2012 / 6:36 am

      I didn’t. I implied the narrative was not honest. I didn’t say she intentionally sought to mislead with it.

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