Learners and ICT

How ambitious should / could we really be for their progress...?
broadband... serious processing power... junior schoolchildren... practical... business case... multiple media... global... scaleable... learning... multiple devices... policy input... Mmmmm!

Prof Stephen Heppell, Ultralab

IBM with Ultralab

The genesis of all this was very simple:

Children use ICT in new and ambitious ways. But how do we distiguish what is genuine progress from what is disappointingly unambitious? Even children with a simple word processor might be expected to write better (they have better authoring tools) but how much better should we expect? 5%? 50%? 500%?. And, of course, what do we mean by "better"? Clearly we could "drill" children to be "better" at using slide rules, but this would represent a huge step backwards, even if their slide-rule skill became astonishingly good.

The problem is complex but this complexity drives many to look, catastrophically, at simple learning productivity solutions ("25% more words is progress", or "25% less mistakes is progress"). The problem then is twofold:

  • children are made to do "dated" things that are no longer relevant only because that way we can demonstrate progress in terms of the numbers achieving a particual criteria (slide rules again..)
  • children can perform 25% better with 50% less effort so that there is the confusion of some claiming progress whilst others see "dumbing down"

 And of course technology moves on rapidly. Commercially there seems to be a sever lack of vision about some of the new technology opportunities. Broadband technology thus far has seen Telecommunication companies trying to reinvent themsleves, bizarrely, as broadcasters (eg BT Video on Demand trials, ADSL, etc) whilst broadcasters are just awakening to the web's oportunities for them to become a conduit for communication and community (eg BBC on-line conference areas).

It also seems for many (but not for us, so far anyway) to be genuinely hard to build projects that give insights today into the impact of tomorrow's technology with the result that much progress is ossified as new technology is shown simply to do old things a little better rtaher than new things.

The really challenging task ahead of us is to decide just how good children might be as active learners if they were to be given really cool technology, thoughtful project mediation and open ended opportunity.


Useful links for a starter:

Reflections the pages I posted after speaking at the IEE's conference on unbundling, with plenty to say on broadband issues

I hope the notes make sense, they were posted for those who attended the conference...

eCharter for children article by SH in BETT edition of TES; explores entitlement agenda for children, includes thoughts on symmetry

Available on the TES site from here

Reflections on iMovie workshop: film and rock stars and children make digital movies in pairs together

Paper re-posted in this website, but doubtless also available elsewhere

Invitation letter posted to ministers inviting them to a demonstration of broadband technologies in January 1998 (just to show that we care about broadband!)

The letter came in various versions; this was the root draft of them all.

Reflections on computer moratorium debate in US; why it is misguided

On a working page from a project in Singapore

The chapter in the Stevenson Report (Information and Communication technology in UK Schools) reflecting on networking - note clear emphasis on contribution and symmetry.

Our report very much became UK ICT school policy. We all met up again the other day to see what bits had and hadn't been delivered. Interesting!