No, not EMF or Chumbawumba, but do you remember the internet in the ’90’s? Well probably not, since frankly there were very few people aware of the web in the middle of that decade; it simply wasn’t a part of everyday life. Why do I bring that up? Well, as we at Westminster enter a brave new Mac world in 2011 and beyond, I am aware of some skepticism, resistance, nervousness and even fear, as we are bombarded with a seemingly never ending barrage of information and opportunity. It was exactly the same in 1996. As a pretty experienced user of technology in education, and having seen this massive tsunami-like wave hit the shore in the past, I offer my story and these (hopefully comforting) words…….
I have probably been deeply involved in using technology in education as long as almost any teacher at Westminster. I was among that very first wave of teachers embracing the WWW nearly 15 years ago, have had a web site (in one format or another) since 1998, and have had a blog since 2006. What I am trying to say is that “I get technology”, but also have a healthy disrespect for it! Allow me to explain.
Circa 1998 I was teaching at a small tutorial college in London and each day I would travel to work on the magnificent Tube and bus public transport infrastructure of the city. As I traveled each day, especially towards the end of the 1990’s, I began to see advertisements on buses and in the trains which had these strange ‘www.” and “.com” slogans. There were an increasingly large number of them, and nobody that I knew seemed to know what they meant. At first I thought they were examples of those clever bits of cryptic advertising that lure you in via curiosity, but after a pretty short time it was obvious that was not the answer.
At that time I happened to have a colleague who was teaching Psychology in the same institution as me. He was really interested in producing some web pages and essentially introduced me to the internet. I immediately saw it is an exciting possibility, but even at the beginning of the web, it seemed overwhelming to me. I decided that there was only one way to tackle it, and that was to make the web work for ME; I had to define what the internet was going to mean to MY teaching, NOT the other way around. As a result, my embracing of the technology has always been with a view to help drive and re-tool what I already do, and not necessarily radically change my anything about my teaching.
I decided to create a web page for my class, but not for the reasons that were commonly being given at the time. I recall that in classrooms around the country, people were repeatedly saying, “You must have a web page, you must have a web page”. When these folk were asked the simplest of questions, i.e., ‘why?’, all they could come up with was, “well, it’s the future, isn’t it?”. That never seemed like a good enough reason to me, and even 15 years later I still feel the same way. I needed (and still need) a reason to implement change; back in 1998 I found one, but like you dear skeptic, I’m going to have to be convinced all over again and I think that’s the best way forward.
In ’98 (amongst other things) I was spending innumerable hours standing in front of the copier, re-producing pages and pages of worksheets & notes in a seemingly never-ending paper avalanche. The motivation for me teaching myself HTML (at the time there were really not too many programs around like Dreamweaver so the code needed to be hand-written) was to simply give the kids access to materials online, and to take the burden of copying off me – it really was THAT simple, with no ‘grand pedagogy’, ‘edubabble’ or research leading the way, just a pragmatic reason to implement a helpful tool. I was doing it as much for ME as I was for the kids, but good things happened for them as a result of my selfishness.
Now of course, my web pages have evolved to be something infinitely different than they once were back in 1998, but all of the changes and additions has been driven by specific, practical goals which were addressed as and when they came up, and was not part of some grand technological or educational plan. Cliched perhaps, but I cannot think of a better example of an ‘evolution rather than a revolution’. Things that have not needed to change on the web site since 1998 (because they were working then and still do now), have not. Some may scoff at the fact my web site is still rooted in the 90’s (well, at least 40% in the ’90’s) with laughably ancient coding under the hood, but I say, ‘don’t fix what ain’t broke’ – I think that’s a great philosophy when dealing with technology in your classroom.
My point is this – use technology in really small, practical ways that help YOU, and what will probably occur is a natural evolution. There is no need for you to become as immersed as I (or others) may be, overnight, but a gradual and gentle effort is likely to be rewarded with small victories along the way. If it doesn’t work, throw it out. Take my upcoming Twitter experiment for example. If it doesn’t do it for me then I will readily (and quickly) abandon it.
Similarly (and this is important), it’s also possible to integrate technology and still remain rooted in what is an essentially, ‘traditional’ model of teaching which yields great results, where technology supplements one’s ‘normal’ activities. Radical, up-rooting of traditional values is not necessarily required, but an open mind and a willingness to be reflective probably are.