A simplistic approach to change in education is often based on the statement – “If we could only get teachers to …” In the ICT domain, the sentence is quite often finished with “use technology” or “write electronically” or, well, you name it.
When something is tried and fails, it’s quite natural to try to analyze why. I’ve seen it happen and very often it boils down to “the teacher did this wrong” or “it was just tinkering and not embraced wholeheartedly”.
The frightful thing is that the finger seems always to be pointing back at the teacher.
You need to read this very interesting article “WikiFAIL: Students and the Orthodoxy of Practice in the Classroom“. When I saw the word “Orthodoxy” in the title, my initial reaction was that this was going to be another article pointing out teacher flaws. Instead, the article took an interesting turn.
There were probably a number of structural changes in the assignment that might have made it work better,1 but what I did learn from this exercise and from this particular cohort was that students often have very concrete expectations about what types of work they should be doing and how much can be asked of them. Teachers in search of new pedagogical practices and armed with the desire to implement new technologies often lose sight of this condition.
I think that all teachers, change agents, professional developers, and principals could benefit from a thoughtful read of the article. It sheds light on another piece of the puzzle that is often ignored. By the time students arrive in your classroom, they know the game of education. They know (or have a rough sense of) what expectations for success have been in the past and extrapolate to the future. Why should they expect that anything would be different?
If your use of technology is going to be as simple as “instead of writing our essay by hand, we’re going to do it on computer”, then has anything really changed in what the expectations are? I think that the statement – “it’s not about the technology” falls short in the big scheme of things. If technology is truly going to make a substantial difference, then its use and the expectations for success from the student need to be clearly defined and applied consistently. To do otherwise is just tinkering.