About 12 years ago, an event occurred in my personal life that changed everything dramatically. The details are not important but the net result was that I lost nearly all my stuff. Except for my clothes, some CDs, a lot of books and various bits of ephemera. The event was traumatic and changed my life considerably. On the bright side, it resulted in a new, streamlined me. A thinner, more economical, sleeker and low-maintenance version of myself that revelled in a new asceticism. Never, I swore would I accumulate stuff again. Unnecessary baggage.
Ha. Fat chance. 12 years on and I have more stuff than ever. Too much stuff. I put it down partially to my slightly obsessive personality. Music for example. My iPod, which started off with a modest collection of some 500 tunes now has over 20,000 pieces of music on it. I mean, what’s the point? I might as well listen to the radio as use the shuttle function. And when you get a collection that large it becomes impossible to choose. It’s like a wine list that’s too long. In the end, you throw your arms in the air, shut your eyes and point at random. My Kindle is the same. Swollen with hundreds of free ‘classics’. It has become increasingly hard to choose what to read. My television has over 1000 channels. I cannot choose what to watch. My listening, reading and watching habits have been sabotaged by too much choice which is really no choice at all. In desperation I turn to the Internet and type ‘cats’ into Google. I receive 100 million pages to choose from.
There is no alternative. I put the iPod on shuffle, read two pages from each of the squillion books on the Kindle, whilst simultaneously surfing the web, browsing the television and for good measure checking Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and a quick burst of COD. But something is missing. Oh, yes. I need to do my homework too. Just as well I can multitask. Or not.
By accidental stealth, our house has become infiltrated by technology produced by that vegetative symbol for original sin. Almost without us realising it, the i-listen, i-natter, i-browse and i-fiddle have grafted themselves onto our lives. This is not to imply that we owe an allgegiance to the fruity purveyors of these devices. We do not walk around wearing wholesome black and white t-shirts tucked into Harry Highpants faux casual designer jeans and sporting goofy, white, Stepford smiles. We do also possess the more suburban, double-glazed metaphors of everyday computing.
Like most of you, I have possessed an i-listen for years. Ubiquitously, I am plugged in to avoid bordeom/thinking/talking/socialising/working. I am a bit like that. The i-natter I “need” for my employment (as if no other, cheaper device would suffice). The i-fiddle was a present for my wife so that she could more conveniently feed her addiction to FarmTown, and the i-browse was a freebie for a conference I have no intention of attending. Auntie also has an i-fiddle to replace her recently deceased PDA that has given her faithful service since 1853.
On Boxing Day, our 4-year old twins discovered FaceWasteoftime and spent some hilarious moments using the devices as walkie talkies until they were standing so close, the bouncing echoes made them sound like early Radiohead. Something interesting happens when a little person picks up an i-thing. The kinaesthetic connection of the child to the device is arguably the most natural interface I have ever seen between a human and ICT.
Double-glazed technology is only tolerated by them because of the Cbabies website’s reliance on Phlash. Both Thing 1 and Thing 2 infinitely prefer the liquid elegance of the handheld devices lending themselves far more to independent and collaborative learning. It is the grown-ups and their modernist institutions who see the technology as being rooted in the architecture and fabric of buildings rather than being connected to the inquisitiveness and creativity of individuals.
I’m afraid that our educational ICT taxonomies need a radical makeover. Thing 1 and Thing 2 see the digital world through different lenses.
“Education hasn’t had a very good track record with innovative technologies. Mostly we ban things, then, if they don’t appear to have gone away, we appropriate them. “Education asks, when faced with most emerging technologies, a traditionally simple productivity question: “How can this new thing usefully improve what we are already doing?” Rather than asking, “What new things might we now do?”. The learners’ question of course has always been that latter one, hence the dissonance that technology often produces. “The obvious and early excitement of games became tamed to “spelling space invaders”; the art, installation and exhibition and celebration potential of a computer plus projector was reeled back into the “stand and deliver” of an interactive white-board; the personal computer could have unleashed suites of learning tools that mirrored the creativity of a primary classroom, but instead it was reeled back with a suite of dull software that bizarrely mirrored an office. ICT capability became dull conformity, rather than startling creativity. But you know all this already. “But this time it really is different – this Christmas and New Year break saw hosts of families gathered around their Wiis and other gadgets, playing together and enjoying themselves hugely. The phones dreaded by so many schools for so long have opened up hosts of new play opportunities – for adults as well as children (HOW many games on the iPhone already, HOW much fun?!) and we are very obviously at the beginning of an era of post-appropriation in our schools relationship with technology. “And that changes everything as we struggle to keep education up with the progress of post-appropriation technology, rather than to drag technology back to where education is. Gaps will widen, schools that realise where we are will, and in many, many cases already are, listening to children who have suddenly moved from being “the learners’ voice” to being reconnaissance scouts spying out possible new futures. Smart schools will send their scouts ahead, with wise teachers, to spy out future possibilities. “Much of this is, of course, in the mind. We might see leaners doing creative and playful things, but too often our minds see a misfit with the structures and strictures of an orderly education life, and then we demonise what we saw. Top Gear ‘adventure’: picture BBC “A simple example: BBC’s Top Gear regularly features the little “adventures” of its three presenters. In truth we know that as the car edged around the crumbling roadside there was a full BBC production team watching. We know this “three men alone with a challenge” is a bit of playful fiction, albeit with real characters, and people seem to find it entertaining stuff. Indeed, even when the presenters go into bully mode, as for example when they have yet another pop at green politics, many viewers still seem to laugh. “The presenters are apparently lauded for this – but when instead the story is concocted by school children, filmed by their mates’ phones rather than a camera crew, and when the results are circulated among peers to laughter and delight, we call it Happy Slapping and see the perpetrators as the devil incarnate. I’m only signalling that children being playful with technology, with games, with video, with tools like Google Earth and consoles like the Nintendo Wii, with phones and social networking and more, will not this time be dragged back and appropriated into the old factory model of learning. “These post-appropriation technologies won’t be tamed. There won’t be an “educational version”, or a government scheme, so we’d better start some serious conversations about what 21st century learning might look like if we embrace, rather than deny them. “I can’t think of a better place to start than chatting to learners as they play. “So, send out your reconnaissance scouts. Having a bunch of articulate, normal, tech-savvy, diverse London kids playfully learning on the stand, is looking like a pretty important “don’t miss” opportunity for BETT visitors. And we have a scheduled series of inputs too, if you want to sit a while and ponder…”