Sunday, 5 February 2012

The hurdles of 1:1, LMS and school change

It has been a very interesting and hectic school year so far. In September, all 130 first-graders got their brand-new minilaptops. School administration proudly named this the beginning of the BIG LEAP. At the same time, our school acquired a LMS to help teachers take the leap in practice. Having been actively involved in social media, and various online platforms for some time, I was asked to guide teachers in the use of the new platform, together with our ICT teacher, who would be the technical expert. After a lot of initial doubts concerning my personal leap outside the language teacher's "box", I decided to jump at the chance of new challenges.

In my role as a teacher tutor, I soon realized that my colleagues could roughly be divided into three groups: 1) those who already had some experience in integrating technology in their classes, and thus had specific expectations of what a LMS should offer 2) those who were ready to start experimenting with new technologies but had now clear idea of what it might be 3) the ostriches who had their heads safely hidden in the sand, and maintained that as long as students learned the facts listed in the curriculum in the old way, no technology would be needed in their classrooms. They also added that as no computers would be used in the national final exams, for the foreseeable future anyway, using them in class would be a waste of time and effort.

Unfortunately, the adopted LMS turned out to be a disappointing flop. It didn't meet the expectations of group 1, among other things because it wasn't customisable in any way. Group 2 found it too intimidating to use, and needed frequent step-by-step instructions, which in the end were too frustratingly time-consuming. As for group 3, I think they consider technology too much as a tool for TEACHING, and fail to see its potential as a powerful LEARNING tool for the students.

Personally, I may have already been biased at the start, with my experience of user-friendly and colourful social media tools. All I can say, I wasn't impressed at all by what the platform had to offer. However, I do believe that to make things move forward on the school level, a LMS of some sort might be beneficial as a starting point, in particular for teachers who, as ICT users, are inexperienced but willing to learn. But this platform needs to be user-friendly enough to help things develop with ease. If this is not the case, too much time is wasted in learning the complicated operating system, or teachers will simply give up even trying. Another problem with many LMSs is that they often guide teachers too much to just repeat the traditional methods in a digital format - ie. uploading files online instead of giving them on paper. True, it will save paper, but this is hardly the main point! Lisa Lane aptly calls this "the LMS pedagogy trap".
An instructor seeking an easy way to post word documents, assignments through a digital "dropbox", and run a traditional threaded discussion board will tend to show great satisfaction in using a LMS.
The LMS also needs to be flexible enough to allow innovative teachers to customise it and add other applications to it, when needed. These teachers are typically already quite far in their own pedagogical change into a more student-centred, 21st-century approach, and then start finding suitable technological tools to support and enhance this change.

I look forward to more colleagues finding the courage and enthusiasm to experiment with some ICT tools, and getting interested in learning more. This would hopefully give them insights into what pedagogical changes this might entail in their old classroom practices. I don't think any singular platform will be perfect and ideal for all different users. We need to learn to live with the multitude of choices, as well as with the fast pace of change when it comes to digital tools. I've heard and read countless times that "good teaching is good teaching, whether you use technology or not". I tend to disagree. I would say IT IS to do with technology in that schools cannot keep pretending that we can carry on as before, oblivious to what is happening all around. If we idly wait for the final exam procedures to get digitalised before adopting technology in our classrooms, we will be failing several generations of young people, who will enter work markets ill-prepared for what is expected of them there. There is a lot of good in our country's largely de-centralised school system, with its wide teacher autonomy. One of its great obstacles, however, is the difficulty to accomplish any fundamental, large-scale change.

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