Monday, 14 January 2008

Our baby steps into 21st-century classrooms

Today I got inspired by Kim Cofino's post about Moving Teachers into the 21st Century. In my school we are in the process of slowly moving into this direction. The big thing at the beginning of this year is supplying each classroom with a fixed dataprojector and an attached laptop. Wow! One classroom already has a Smart Board, although it's reserved mostly to the exclusive use of maths teachers. I can't wait for the installation, since I'm dying to use some net material to enliven my English lessons. However, good as this is, it's only the very beginning. I'm afraid most of my colleagues will simply see the new gadgets in the classroom as a replacement for the old OHP and slides. There is no talk yet about any changes in curriculum, or actual pedagogy to fully embed the use of the new technology. No talk about students' active net presences in our school context. And for the time being only 2 classrooms equipped with student computers, but as they are in constant teaching use (shortage of classrooms!), so an English teacher will really be lucky to get a chance to teach there once in a blue moon. Up to now, there has been absolutely no integration of ICT courses and any other school subjects - both are done totally independently.
I overheard our headteacher talk to our ICT teacher wondering how to 'force' teachers to actually use the new equipment. Her idea was to remove all the OHPs from the classrooms. Hmm... Maybe not such a brilliant idea. I can only imagine the outcry such an announcement would stir up among my colleagues! You can't force seasoned teachers to anything - they may agree in public, but in the safety of their closed classrooms, business will go on as usual. Old habits die hard, or how about teaching old dogs new tricks? It must be something to do with our personality, mustn't it? Some people's safe and structured lives are shattered by the slightest distraction, whereas others constantly seek the thrill of being active change agents.

I couldn't agree with Kim more that teachers are a species of their own. There are almost as many styles to do the job as there are teachers, and what's more, many of us have developed this exaggerated need to always be right, and to protect our own little territories at school. Don't you dare to invade mine and suggest to me a different approach! Although I quite like Kim's three-year plan to get the whole school involved, I am slightly dubious whether showcasing the work of the first-year willing teachers would work for us. Sadly, it is just not the Finnish way to proudly present your work - it's better to keep quiet and modest, unless you want to instil envy in your peers. Yet, maybe it would be about time to start changing this, too, for the 21st century. Only yesterday I read in the paper how a globally renowned gene researcher critised Finnish schools for not teaching kids enough presentation skills, or how to market wonderful new Finnish inventions. It's us teachers who should learn it first before we can guide our students. But this is another story.

Back to embedding technology into our everday classroom work. You've got to start with the willing, no doubt about that in my mind. Unfortunately, at the moment I am about the only willing teacher in my school - but I am not the headteacher or the ICT responsible. A real drawback in our Finnish school system is that schools have no funds to hire a full-time ICT support person. It's usually the maths/ICT teacher with an already full teaching load who gets lumbered with these tasks for a small compensation. They spend the time they see reasonable on guiding colleagues, which in our case is minimal. You've got to catch them at exactly the right moment with your queries. Moreover, this system doesn't require them to keep up with the latest, since this would require investing their own time after school. No wonder things in this field don't shift in our school. It seems ironic that many teachers around the world are up in arms because their school administration is blocking the use of certain Web 2.0 tools. We have access, but there is no willingness to grab it. In the end, why am I even complaining? Why don't I just go ahead with it, irrespective of my colleagues? No doubt I will, but it's a rather lonely existence, I can assure you. I'd love to share, consult and collaborate!

Interestingly, even many of our students seem to be as resistant to change as my colleagues. Sometimes I despair at how conservative the majority of our students are. Just last week I introduced an interesting article from the Students 2.0 blog about the use of technology at schools. I asked my students to write replies to the Scottish boy who had written it - fully expecting them to agree with him that, of course, students should be exposed to more technology at school. Quite the contrary, my students were wondering what on earth the writer was going on about. According to them, school is school and technology use is something outside school that everybody should be responsible for learning themselves. No need for teachers' guidance here, they burst out! I've got to get back to this with them in their next lesson, since I'm afraid they don't fully understand what incorporating technology would actually mean for their learning experience. They described our school as advanced and high-tech, because they can watch YouTube videos in some classes. Mere passive reception, or using the Internet as a resource library to find information are examples of advanced technology incorporation for them.

It's a long a winding road ahead of us...

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