Yesterday eLearning Africa, held in Lusaka, Zambia, kicked off with a pre-conference workshop titled Envisioning Our Global Learning Future. I sat on a panel with Prof John Traxler (UK) and Jacqueline Batchelor (SA). To begin the workshop we each had to take a particular position on the future of global learning and offer that to the group. Our viewpoints needed to be somewhat divergent and deliberately provocative to get the discussions going. Below are some of the key points.
John: “Rethink the digital divide”
- We no longer talk about society without technology. It’s inconceivable. In the same way, it’s no longer viable to talk about learning without technology. It’s no longer sensible to talk about technology and learning as two separate things — they are the same thing.
- Technology makes borders of learning less relevant.
- We shouldn’t look at learning in terms of previous notions of (PC-based) digital divides. Mobile phones have moved technology from the “top” (privileged) spaces, defined by scarcity, to the “bottom” (everyman) spaces, defined by abundance. So we need to rethink elearning, which includes mlearning, in new notions of divides.
Jacqueline: “People and pedagogy first, then technology”
- We need to think about people and pedagogy first, not technology.
- Tech is disruptive: it unbalances the dynamic between teacher and learner. For the first time the learners are the experts and this has a negative impact on the teaching-learning environment of the classroom.
- It’s no surprise that mobile phones have been banned in some schools!
- There is too much technology for teachers to keep up with — it’s overwhelming for a group that is already over-stressed and over-worked.
- Policies and practices need to be adapted first, before we introduce technology into learning spaces.
- Unless we put people first and develop and adopt a pedagogy that suits a technology-based educational environment, then the technology will only continue to fail us.
Me: “Technology will save education”
- I started off by pointing out that today’s technology (new, pioneering) is tomorrow’s resource (taken-for-granted) — based on this paragraph from a piece by Douglas Adams: “‘Technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs (and a couple of decades or so after that, as sheets of paper or grains of sand) and we will cease to be aware of the things.” Textbooks were once technology, but now they’re learning resources. Computers and mobile phones will be mere resources in the not-too-distant future. We need to think of technology like this.
- Education is broken. One reason for this is that it hasn’t changed in a hundred years, while the world outside of the classroom has changed dramatically.
- There is an urgent need for educating learners on e-literacy and information literacy. How can this happen without technology?
- Tech has radically changed the way we live, work, play and communicate. Why shouldn’t it radically change the way we teach and learn?
- Some argue that tech has failed education, that is has made no difference to the grades of learners over the last 25 years. I would say that is because the tech hasn’t been fully integrated into the education system. PCs are in the computer room, teaching and learning stays the same in the classroom.
- Education needs a major overhaul. Technology is our only option to avoid the “crisis of relevance” facing young people today.
A discussion followed, with lots of interesting perspectives coming from delegates across Africa. John pointed out that when elearning is driven by ministries, departments and corporates then it is based on a particular way of thinking: controlled, top-down, expensive, tethered. Mobile phones threaten that paradigm. John is not sure if that is a recipe for success or for frustration.
Jacqueline, who is a teacher, told us that technology complicates teaching because the software doesn’t work properly yet, or that learners have different phones with different OSs, or that not everyone has a phone that can access the internet. Until the “technology works” it’s going to be very hard to get it into schools.
At the end we admitted that there are no easy answers to the global learning future, and that many problems are not unique to Africa. The truth of tech or people first lies in the middle. Both are needed.