One of the supreme ironies of the age of globalism is that the
more global we get, technologically, politically, economically,
educationally, the more difficult it becomes for the average punter
to think vertically instead of horizontally.
I see global thinking as horizontal - trying to see and
apply global issues to parochial concerns.
I see vertical thinking as thinking of the present in
relation to the past and the future.
I think this type of thinking, the ability to relate issues,
global and parochial, past and present to future, is the price
we're paying for technologically-induced globalism. We can see
the results of horizontal thinking in the effects of 'reforming'
our electricity supply, 'reforming' our schools to the point where
we are so bogged down with the burdens of being self-managing
but centrally over-regulated and over bureaucratised that we can
only think horizontally, and it's becoming harder
and harder to think vertically. We talk about a knowledge society,
but knowledge is forged from information when it is applied vertically,
through thought and analysis, in relation to past and future implications,
not just in terms of the immediate present.
Like it or not, technology has created the information
society. The information society is not going to go away. Nor
is technology. And there is no room for schools and teachers who
pay lipservice to technology. Educators have all got to
be in there doing it, not as the victims of hype, but as the explorers
of the possibility that it might offer as yet untapped
I have a simple claim, which is backed by substantial research,
and that is that, not just in education, but in society at large,
we will only learn to harness the phenomenal power of information
technology if we learn to make better use of what comes free on
all humanoid platforms, that is cognitive technology. And
if schools focus on installing computers, not programming humanoid
cognitive technology by teaching people how to learn and how to
use the information technology purveys with intelligence and critical
discrimination, we deserve to be out of a job, or with three grades
of employment - clerks, babysitters or computer technicians working
8 hr days and with 3 weeks' annual holiday.
I think that, in order to make sense of the vexed question of
how we can harness technology to enhance learning and teaching
and schooling, we HAVE to look broadly - vertically as well as
horizontally - at the whole social context of education, at the
broader picture. Horizontal thinking will always restrict us to
looking for what I call panaceatemols - instant quick technological
fixes to the inevitable consequences of technology-driven changes
- a classic hair of the dog.
Do you agree with me that our constant frenetic searching for
new 'how to' recipes is ultimately less satisfying, more
stressful and less professionally productive than taking
time to wrap our minds round deep ideas, wrestle them to the ground
and sit on them triumphantly grounding them in experience and
If so, could it be true, too, of the students we teach - that
the fractured kaleidoscopic nature of the school day and their
media-saturated screen-dominated post-school lives is the single
biggest enemy of learning for them - and us?
Curriculum explosion and curriculum fragmentation haven't helped.
I don't have any problem with the new Curriculum Statements individually.
Collectively they are overwhelming, especially in the assumption
I'm encountering among more and more teachers that ERO expects
every single curriculum objective to be covered. As a country
we haven't acknowledged the extent of the problem. In short, if
you teach for breadth it will be at the expense of depth. The
extent to which ALL the Curriculum Statements now suggest the
use of inquiry, problem-solving, resource-based learning methods
implies that these methods are quick and easy and you can run
five or six projects in tandem in different curriculum areas.
This is bizarre. Could you do five or six PhDs simultaneously.
This is, at their level, what we are asking them to do. No wonder
kids skate over the surface of information, seldom engaging with
and wrestling with ideas long enough to translate information
into knowledge. This is not just what I think. It is clearly
documented as an emerging phenomenon in the NEMP 1998 information
skills research. We are teaching for breadth, not depth, and reading
for ideas will never happen unless there is TIME to read deeply,
from page or screen, it's the depth that counts. Whether it is
reading deeply for the ideas that drive a powerful story, or reading
deeply for the ideas that make a topic interesting, complex, fascinating,
reading takes TIME, and it takes skills, and the skills need to
be applied flexibly and strategically. A 1998 MOE report, Adult
Literacy in New Zealand claims that nearly half the New Zealand
workforce cannot read well enough to work effectively in a modern
One of the current media commentators, Douglas Rushkoff, whose
book, Playing the future; how kids' culture can teach us to
thrive in an age of chaos introduced the neat term 'screenagers'
uses the metaphor of surfing to describe how highly visually screenagers
literally surf through life and the net on their skateboards,
snowboards, remotes and computer keyboards. I said in Term 1 Good
Teacher that I like his notion of the postlinear grammar of modern
media requiring different and more sophisticated skills. He says:
But the skills we need to develop in order to become adept at
surfing channels (and computer networks, online services, the
world wide web, even our own e-mail messages for that matter are
the very opposite of what we traditionally valued in a good TV
viewer. We are coming to understand that ... the viewing style
of our children is actually the more adult.. . the ability to
piece together meaning from a discontinuous set of images is the
act of a higher intellect, not a lower one."
How do you reconcile his view of these highly visually literate
kids who can piece together meaning by surfing channels, websites,
whatever with the MOE claim that half of our workforce is below
a functional level of workplace literacy. Rushkoff supplied the
answer. Unlike most adults who confuse kids' confidence with pushing
buttons - their superficial level of technological literacy -
he recognises that the surfing metaphor aptly describes how they
skate over the surface of information - visual or textual - and
he emphasises the role of the teacher in helping them to engage
with material in depth. he says:
teachers must discover what they can offer that a computer cannot...
Unlike a computer a human teacher can be a partner in learning
and dedicate himself to giving his pupils the necessary criteria
to judge their data's integrity, make connections between different
facts and formulate opinions and arguments of their own. The best
teachers will instil in their pupils the confidence and enthusiasm
to express themselves as widely and articulately as possible.
I call this information literacy. You can call it what you like,
but the challenge Rushkoff gives us is real - he is saying is
that screenagers have developed a broader attention range but
have a shorter attention span. So how do we capitalize
on these sophisticated surfing skills, their ability to range
broadly, but, it appears, not deeply. Do we, in how we approach
ICT teaching, mimic the fractured fragmented multi-dimensional
asynchronous images that shaped their superficial surfing, or
do we deliberately provide the antidote in giving them the time
and the modelled experience of wrestling deeply with ideas, meanings,
word-based images and experiences? I'm pleading for the latter.
Let's do as Rushkoff suggests - look for what they can't do with
print OR with ICT, and do it for and with students with power
Tim Wynne-Jones (1997) said:
The world is distracting, fragmented. There is no escaping it.
No immunity. No safe houses. The so-called Age of Information
is quite willing to bring 'the shapeless avalanche of events'
right into your parlour. .. The infobahn is essentially endless
with more road signs than rest stops... The electronic media,
all lumped together is, to my mind, a cybertower of Babel with
an infinite number of storeys, but little in the way of Story.
Informative, beguiling, but - finally - pathless. It may very
well reach all the way to Heaven, but, for most users, it is a
place to loiter. A place in which to lose oneself.
Because I think we are being asked to do the impossible,
we need help, and this is what one would like to think a Ministry
of Education might provide. Now this is not for one minute knocking
what Carol Moffatt is doing with the first decent MOE project
we have had. Carol and I are friends who first met 12 years ago
when we were both IT-based pioneering distance learning and our
ONLY source of support was Laurence Zwimpfer, then with Telecom.
I think it is an excellent idea to allow schools to design their
own ITPD, to allow schools to develop a range of different approaches
and 'solutions' and make these available to other schools. We've
always been innovative; we've always been good at no.8 fencing
wire. This is all necessary.
But what hasn't been done in any way shape or form is to look
at what has been happening elsewhere and to strip out, with critical
discrimination, using vertical and horizontal thinking and the
skills I see as essential for survival in an Information Age,
information literacy skills, and come up with clear directions
and recommendations for schools. It is inevitable that busy teachers
and principals will think horizontally. It is not essential for
everyone to reinvent the wheel. Overseas knowledge becomes global
information. What's wrong with a few highly information literate
educators stripping, gutting and analysing it for the many, not
to dictate to them, but to provide them with synthesised information
to ground their practical developments.
Is this happening? No it is not. Tertiary institutions are so
busy competing and marketing themselves, and even the Ministry's
own mouthpiece, the Education Gazette is now a taxpayer-funded
advertiser-subsidised magazine with bland articles written by
journalists. I see, this is the knowledge age where educational
knowledge is created by journalists? Get real. It summarises,
for me the paradox of marketplace education and the inevitable
mediocritisation that results from forcing services to compete
which previously delivered diversity co-operatively.
As a practising teacher who is also an academic, one-time graphic
artist and journalist, and currently independent educational publisher,
I have done a substantial amount of serious academic research
into the context we are providing for meaningful learning in our
schools, and how IT can enhance student learning. The news is
Apart from motivation and enjoyment, which may, arguably,
be conditions for learning, but are NOT synonyms for learning,
there is, to date, little concrete evidence of any significant
IT-related increase in quantity and quality of learning anywhere
in the world.
There's a brilliant book, published in 1998, by Jane Healy called
Failure to connect: How computers affect our children's minds
- for better or worse. She is that rare thing, an academic
who writes interestingly and accessibly. She has surveyed the
literature and literally visited a huge number of schools, academics,
parents, students, and has come up with two categories which I
really like, hype and hope.
My own research relegated at least 90% of what was written to
the hype pile. Not all of it was tripe, but much of it
was unsubstantiated wishful thinking, what I think might be possible
with these wonderful machines - and I include the early writings
of people like Seymour Papert in this pile. What I'm going to
summarise briefly is the remaining 10% which splits roughly, just
for argument into four lots of 2.5%
1. Firstly there is a small body of responsible, well structured
academic studies and meta-analyses which do provide evidence of
some positive benefits of enhanced learning from CAI, ILS and
other systems where the learner is largely taught by the software
will little teacher mediation.. There is clear evidence that computer-based
learning is effective for students with learning and language
difficulties. It affords them a high-status and motivational opportunity
to practise the skills they lack and they feel as if they are
in control of the learning. To a certain extent this is true of
all students, even high ability students enjoy practising routine
skills and there is no reason why they shouldn't. They all NEED
repetition and rote learning although we tend to forget it in
our curriculum-driven quest for endless problem-solving, enquiry,
etc approaches. The evidence for the increase in motivation for
learning is true of almost all children, though it is also true
to say that in IT-immersion environments children reach a boredom
threshold beyond which, however glitzy, IT lacks the ability to
motivate. In other words, if you eat too much chocolate you get
2. The next 2.5% represent anecdotal accounts based on real classroom
practice. While these are not 'research' in the sense of being
academically controlled and generalisable, or valid and verifiable,
they do represent a growing body of solid documentation that lends
support to the current MOE initiative, and prove that good teachers
with training and technology can design and implement exciting,
innovative online learning which they and their students enjoy
and see as beneficial even if it is very hard to quantify the
learning or compare it to what results from other learning/teaching
methods. Computers in NZ Schools, provides consistently
good documentation of such studies, and several other recent publications
have contributed in this way. Many of these studies are technology-driven
in the sense that the start with someone plugging in a piece of
technology or software into a classroom programme and reporting
on what happens. Inevitably the criterion for success is "It worked
and the kids loved it". Goody goody.
3. The next 2.5% represents good, long-term well-funded, well
designed, well monitored and evaluated studies. Numerically they
are fewer than a dozen but they have generated a lot of good writing
and analysis. This is where I have concentrated my efforts for
my own research. The findings are emerging with amazing clarity
and consistency. In short they say that, irrespective of the technology
or software, success results when teachers are well trained over
a long term, when the focus is on learning and integrating the
ICT into the classroom programme, when teachers are provided with
adequate technical support and classroom help, when it is school-driven
with principal enthusiasm and involvement and when it is introduced
in an atmosphere in which teachers do not feel threatened and
intimidated. Beyond the honeymoon, 'Hawthorn' phase, it is long-term
strategic planning within the school, school climate, principal's
vision, teacher training and infrastructural support which determines
success. Interestingly, there is some evidence emerging that learning-focused
teachers achieve better longterm success than technology-focused
teachers, and the better the teacher (in terms of being able to
teach students how to think and learn with the technology) the
better the result.
4. The next 2.5% representing a proliferating body of populist
books and articles emanating from people who are not luddites
- from people like Nicholas Negroponte, Clifford Stoll, Neil Postman,
Sven Birkerts, Douglas Rushkoff, Jane Healy, who have themselves
been at the forefront of pioneering IT in education. They aren't
negative. They are just extremely cautious about the damaging
effects of over-selling the product. Increasingly, they are seeing
the key factor in success as the much-maligned teacher; computers
don't teach, but they can help people to learn, given conditions
for learning. The work done by people like David Jonassen suggests
that creating technology-enhanced learning environment in which
teachers and learners are players with different roles and skills
can create optimum learning. Plugging teacher-free kids into computers
to become self-directed learners is still supported, I believe,
by the Hon. Maurice Williamson, but most of the real computer
fundis and analysts don't have much faith that surfing the Net
aimlessly teaches anyone very much about anything.
So the amount of concrete evidence is limited. Read Healy if
you don't believe me. (Or, closer to home, read one of the best
publications of its kind I have come across. It's called Educating
children for a global information society: A framework for action.,
a report written by Beth Lee for the Australian Parents Council
and Australian Council of State Schools Organisations).
Jane Healy is concerned about the hype and the false expectations
it creates. Parents, politicians, policy makers, even teachers,
WANT a panaceatemol solution to the many problems that beset education.
IT is a ready candidate, and many embrace these totally irresponsible
Jane Healy says, "Today's children are the subject of a vast
and optimistic experiment' and she goes on to talk about "exaggerated
hopes and unmet promises."
My comment is that we DO need to look closely at the limited
number of positive studies. What they say clearly is that kids
like to be taught. They like programmes with structures, scaffolds,
boundaries, lots of self-monitoring options, lots of repetition,
and the very things we see as pariahs, opportunities for rote
and recall learning. Instead of sneering at the American-ness
of integrated learning systems we should look at what is the success
behind the computer-based literacy and maths coaching systems.
they embed a lot of what is missing from many Kiwi classrooms
- real teaching, not facilitation, and a lot of what is called
cognitive coaching - training, by rehearsal and repetition where
needed, kids to use their cognitive software.
This research might be limited but it has clear messages. If
we ignore these messages it is at our peril. We have embraced
a facilitation model of teaching to the point that most teacher
education graduates claim to be facilitators, not teachers. Political
correctness and hegemonic hilarity gone bananas.
What we need to take from this is that brains don't train themselves.
The computer that sits on top of the occipital joint needs to
be programmed. It needs to be TAUGHT how to learn, TAUGHT how
to think and TAUGHT how to select, reject, analyse, synthesise
and interpret information. We wouldn't dream of buying computers
without buying software, but we go from year to year assuming
that someone, somewhere, somehow has programmed students' cognitive
software - taught them how to think, taught them how to learn,
taught them how to use and process and produce information with
There is also evidence from reputable international research
that when students are working independently or co-operatively
in what is known as knowledge construction environments - basically
well designed and clearly guided technology-based projects or
enquiry learning with a problem-solving focus, they reach extraordinarily
high levels of perseverance and academic achievement - but I stress
again that this is proportional to the quality of the guidance
and coaching provided by the teacher and/ or the software.
There is no such thing as good IT or bad IT. It's a question
of what you do with it.It comes down to the simple recognition
that kids, people, who are taught to think and learn, with or
without technology, will make better use of computers than people
who get through school never having learnt how to learn because
they are taught by people who offer excuses, not solutions.
Computers have raised busy work to an art form in some schools,
especially in primary schools where 50,000-fonted wordprocessed
headings have replaced meticulously hand-printed headings, and
downloaded slabs of Encarta have replaced hand-copied slabs of
the World Book projects. Am I exaggerating? NEMP suggests I'm
not. Effective use of IT to support and enhance learning is not
guaranteed by merely installing it.
IT-based learning needs to be designed, coached and monitored
carefully if it is to be cognitively enhancing, not cognitively-bypassing!