Free Education: Toby Doncaster - Make IT Easy

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A lot of things fail ... this is gives us the opportunity to learn. Toby talks about high cost, high stakes technology in the “good old days” where Institutions find recommendations for technology that has worked at other colleges. For example a college that issued a large numbers of tablets to large numbers of students and an improvement in achievement rates. An institution might then go and spend a large sum of money of tablets and staff training … only to find that it fails to have the same improvement effect that the "salesmen" were talking about in the first place. The only way for those tablets to work is to have champions to keep pushing the tablets to get them to work. In 4 or 5 years time the institution needs to spend significant sums again to replace those tablets. Toby says that the technology that we have available now can be cheap and better for learning .. the stakes are lower - the costs and barriers to entry are lower and the costs and consequences of failure are also lower. There are more options and choices and educational technologists can adopt a more exploratory or at least experimental approach and mindset and ask .. "why did I fail, what made it fail and so if that technology fails because of that particular reason what is the other technology that I can use" Failure is one of the ways we learn - experiment, things go wrong - learn from it Toby gives the example of a bottle of wine with a cork vs a bottle of wine with a screw cap. With a cork you have to find and use another piece of technology (a corkscrew) know how to use it and to use it properly to get to the wine - this can present a lot of challenges as Toby tells in his amusing story of trying to get to the wine when the cork gets broken :) With a screw cap it’s simply a case of twist and go .. its also easy to put it back on as well … have you ever tried putting a cork back in a bottle! Its a case of convincing people that a screw cap is as good as a cork .. but there is a lot of tradition and snobbery involved. A screw cap is simpler and easier to use than a cork - its the same thing in teaching and learning if the technology in use is difficult and frustrating to use. If we put technology in where first of all we have to log on with a complicated password (combining capital letters, lower case letters and numbers), then you have to do this and then that and then type in an address etc etc - many of the problems encountered with educational technology are down to shear frustration. There could be a future disconnect if education technology doesn't change. There is a disconnect between the technologies and modes of operation that learners are familiar with on their mobile phones in everyday life for instance and the experience when they come to sit in front of a desktop computer with a mouse in the education system. The past year Toby has been reflecting on the processes and technologies he has tried to implement in class and rather than thinking of anything new or trying to adapt anything he's experimented with the tools he has and asked which work and which don't. Something he would like would be 4 or 5 desktop computers back in the room again because students are not always prepared in class with the technology they already have - many have not charged their phones or they may have connection problems. With full BYOD there are no failsafes ... with 4 or 5 computers in the room there is a failsafe for students to use when they have problems with their own devices. Toby notes that it is useful to have a few desktop computers in a classroom to provide options - rather than a computer suite where all the students sit at a computer. However, he tells how, when he asked for just a few computers in a classroom "the powers that be said that what we will do is set up another computer suite" ... Toby says "that's not the idea ... that he's not about to take 20 students over to another computer room so they can all sit down and switch on and log on wit usernames and passwords .... it has to be instant" Toby is describing important points about about diversity of technology and diversity of activities in the classroom. Originally (the early 1980s) only a few computers were added to classrooms and in later stages (around 1999 - 2005) we deliberately set up classrooms (which we called e-classrooms) with just 2 or 3 computers. The idea was that you could have multiple activities in the classroom and students could circulate around using the computers to share and research with them as needed. What happened however is that managers added extra computers each year and the dominant model became the IT suite .. maybe a power brokerage game between managers over who had the most IT suites.

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