Minding Our Language

Our tendency to over promise the impact of ICT …

Digital Learning Day screenshotMarch 13th is Digital Learning Day in the United States where “all teachers, librarians, media specialists, principals, parents, community members, and administrators from public, private, charter, and home-school settings” are asked to “try something new on Digital Learning Day and share what they learned”. It sounds like a good idea, particularly giving all those involved in education “permission” to try something new and that implies that they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from these too.

However, on the other site it seems strange that in 2015 we have to dedicate a day where “all teachers” are asked to “try something out” using digital technology. We know that digital technology is all pervasive in society and in the world outside of schools yet we still need to provide space for teachers and others to explore its use in educational settings. It seems that the dominant technology in schools continues to be books, pens whiteboards or blackboards and paper. Furthermore it seems that we are over-promising the impact that digital technologies might have in teaching, learning and assessment activities in schools today.

A recent paper by Neil Selwyn highlights this issue and in particular the language some people use when making these claims.

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He cites Newt Gingrich as saying that:

“Get schools out of the 1890s … In an age when most information and knowledge is transmitted digitally and is increasingly personalized – think about how Netflix, Pandora, Twitter and Facebook work – we should be able to do much better than that. Pioneering projects like Khan Academy, Udacity and Coursera are pointing toward a future of learning that is more like Netflix than the chalk-and-textbook system we have today” (Newt Gingrich).

This tendency to critique our education systems by contrasting them to developments in popular culture is all too common by people who are not educators. It is a little more complex than just publishing content online and making it freely available to students, of all ages, around the globe.

Later Selwyn suggests that:
To take the digital technologies that dominate schools and universities as an example, why not refer to the systems that are currently described as ‘virtual learning environments’ as ‘teaching management systems’ or ‘instructional organization systems’? Why not refer to the people using these systems as ‘students’ rather than ‘learners’? Why not refer to internet ‘work groups’ rather than ‘learning communities’? Why not acknowledge that online spaces designed to elicit forms of student contribution are not ‘hang-outs’, ‘cafés’ or ‘hubs’, but places for ‘required response’ or ‘mandatory comment’? Why not acknowledge that students are ‘co-operating’ rather than ‘collaborating’?”

He finishes by proposing that:
“Let us challenge the tired buzz-words and taglines that distort discussions of education and technology. Let us be more confident in calling out lazy generalizations and out-right bullshit. Above all, let us collectively ‘mind our language’ when it comes to talking about education and technology. Altering what is said (and how it is being said) is likely to be one of the most straight-forward but significant means of improving the integrity and overall impact of this field. The bullshit should stop here!“

He is not alone in calling for us to reconsider the claims we make in relation to the impact digital technology could have on our education systems and the video below, from Veritasium and takes about 7 minutes to watch, makes the case that we need to learn from history and recognise that it is teachers who will revolutionise education and not just technology. Therefore we all should consider the language we use in relation to the potential impact of ICT or digital technology in education and begin by taking a more straight forward approach and avoid the “tired buzz words” and “taglines” in the future.


This will Revolutionise Education

So let’s mind our language and rethink how we use it when discussing the role of digital technology across our education systems.

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