It was great to attend the Technology and Inquiry conference on Saturday. I appreciated the opportunity to meet so many people involved in education in BC. I am particularly interested in the preparation of in-service and pre-service teachers’ information and communication technologies (ICT) perspectives and practices. It was refreshing to meet so many educators involved in the day-to-day realities of teachers, teaching and learning, and using ICT in educational institutions.
Although the title of the conference was Technology and Inquiry, it seems to me the emphasis was reversed, the title should have been Inquiry and Technology. The largest portion of the conference time was devoted to Inquiry, the discussion about technology was limited to the afternoon. My observation is there continues to be a dearth of influential leadership in education when it comes to incorporating ICT into teaching practice. By incorporation I do not mean the dystopian technological vision as depicted on the back cover of the latest issue of CEA journal:
It could be said the above image of ICT in education might be considered the successful subjugation of technology to minimally influence change in learning activities in educational institutions.
At issue is a lack of philosophical and conceptual discussion about the meaning of ICT in human existence, and the relationships we propose to foster with ICT, both within educational institutions, and as a society. If teachers are not prepared to engage with ICT as cognitive, cultural, and technological dimensions of human existence, they are not going to be prepared to teach our students about, and with, ICT. If teachers are not prepared to implement inquiry learning processes in their teaching practice, they are not going to be capable of conducting learning relationships with students about, and with inquiry.
The presence of ICT in schools and classrooms does not necessarily mean the ICT is going to be: 1) used at all; 2) used effectively; 3) used for innovation; nor 4) used to support inquiry learning activities. The possibility of teaching and learning through inquiry processes does not necessarily mean teachers are going to change their own educational philosophy, their own conceptions of what constitutes good teaching, the purposes of education in their classrooms, their pedagogical methods, nor their curriculum, to accommodate inquiry as an integral part of life in their classrooms.
I am not criticizing the efforts that have been made by educational professionals to bring changes to teachers’ incorporation of ICT and innovative inquiry for learning. I am criticizing what appears to be a systemic blind spot when it comes to understanding the cognitive, cultural and technological dimensions of ICT, particularly within the dynamic contextual conditions of educational institutions. We have learned over decades that: 1) putting ICT in schools does not necessarily mean that teachers will use it; 2) traditional methods of professional development to train teachers to use ICT in their teaching does not change teachers’ perspectives and practices with ICT on a day to day basis; and 3) extended, periodic support for teachers to learn to use ICT in their classrooms does result in teachers using ICT, but this use does not continue after the periodic support is removed.
The problem of teachers’ lack of ICT use, much less innovative or inquiry-based ICT use, persists, despite greater access to ICT devices, software applications, and network infrastructure. The problem of changing teaching perspectives and practices in relation to ICT availability was discussed by Larry Cuban in his blog post of Feb 18, 2011. His findings show the use of ICT in classrooms had not significantly changed the actual learning activities going on in the classrooms. When we consider the NetSupport advertisement, and its implicit depictions of educational philosophy, pedagogy, and curriculum, the classroom envisioned by NetSupport is not much changed from a classroom of the 19th century, with slate boards for the students and a chalkboard at the front of the room. Simply parking students in front of a computer screen does not mean they, nor their teachers, are incorporating digital technology and inquiry learning in meaningful ways. If we are going to create emergent, authentic, knowledge-generative, hands-on inquiry learning processes, we need to understand the underlying tensions that hold these historic perspectives, practices, and processes in place.
At the conference I was struck by the absence of discussion with regards to how, and why, teachers would be prepared to incorporate inquiry, and ICT, into their teaching practice. I have argued elsewhere that teachers’ use of ICT is often assumed, but not prepared. I noticed this phenomenon on Saturday, wherein teachers’ innovative use of inquiry in their classrooms appeared assumed but not prepared, because there was no discussion about how teachers would be prepared to try these methods of teaching.
As educators, I assert we have an ethical, and professional responsibility to provide leadership in our society, when it comes to our involvements with ICT, and developing capacities for inquiry learning to solve the multiple crisis facing humanity today. It is not enough to do as Neil Stephenson suggested:
Audrey Van Alstyne asked participants at the conference to join her to create an online repository of examples of using ICT to enrich, enhance and enable inquiry learning processes in classrooms. One of the problems she is facing, as District Principal of Learning Technologies, is a lack of exemplary uses of ICT to facilitate teachers to imagine innovation and inquiry in their own teaching practice. I would suggest the problem goes much deeper than that, and although providing examples can facilitate creative processes to imagine innovative instructional design, it will not motivate the magnitude of change in the profession of education that is called forth by these activities.
The profession of education is facing a foundational conceptual challenge to understand the relationships amongst the ubiquitous presence of digital technologies in our human existence, and our responsibility to become evolving, sophisticated users of these technologies. Educators continue to attempt to subordinate digital technologies in educational institutions by referring to them as “only a tool”, when they discuss the problem of using “technology for technology’s sake” instead of in the service of curriculum, when they talk about the purpose of using technology is to “support learning”. These references to digital technology reveal the tip of an iceberg of complexity associated with bringing ICT into the profession of education.
I posit this challenge is the blind spot that remains unaddressed, as educators discuss the best ways to teach, to support learning, and ensure student success. I argue, we really need to be talking about the best ways to teach, support learning, and ensure teacher success, when it comes to the incorporation of digital technologies, and inquiry learning processes, into professional practice. It can be done, but until we understand the magnitude of cognitive, cultural, and technological change this entails, our efforts will fall short. We know that we are capable of undertaking change when we understand the significance of the changes we need to make. I suggest we need to set up a system of ongoing professional development that involves teachers learning with, and about, ICT, within the context of developing inquiry instructional design. We need to create opportunities for teachers to discuss the challenges they face, the possible solutions they may design, and processes for deliberation. Until we address these changes as a system, we are going to continue to ask, “but how can we sustain these changes?”