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Is there still a place for computer labs in schools?Tablets will not transform education

12 Aug

With the growing trend towards mobility and the popularity of tablets in the field of education, is there still a role for a dedicated computer laboratory (lab)?

There is most definitely a place for both. The whole idea of using tablets (or other mobile devices) is for learners to have continuous access to technology as a learning tool. A computer lab has the disadvantage of being physically separated from the classroom, hence making it more difficult for the teacher to integrate classroom teaching with what technology can offer. However, until such a time that every child in a school has a mobile device, the computer lab will continue to fulfil an important role: it may be the only way in which to bring every learner in touch with technology.

It therefore makes sense to keep the computer room in good repair, while phasing in mobile devices – in big schools this may take a few years, owing to the high cost of technology. The need for a computer lab can be re-evaluated once a one-to-one state has been achieved, but until then, resist the temptation to dismantle the computer room in favour of mobile devices.

My advice to learning institutions is to continue using whatever technology is available, making sure that it is used optimally, and then adding more and new technologies.

Tablets will and shall Transform education..Yes!But…

“What a bold statement,” you may say, “particularly in view of the current proliferation of tablets and other mobile devices.”

Well, consider history.

In 1922 Thomas Edison reportedly said:

I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize [transform] our education system and that in a few years it will supplant the use of textbooks … The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture where it should be possible to obtain 100 percent efficiency.

Did this expectation come true?  In spite of the fact that some teachers used motion pictures with great success in their schools, we know that this medium did not manage to transform the education system.  What went wrong?

Edison based his prediction on a number of assumptions about this potentially powerful tool:

Content: He assumed that sufficient relevant content will be available in film format to cover all learning areas for all grades.

Affordable and available equipment: He assumed that motion picture equipment will be affordable and will be made available to every classroom.

Technology stability: He assumed that the motion picture will not be replaced by other technologies in the short to medium term, and will continue to be the first choice technology for entertainment and education of the masses.

Classroom integration: He assumed that all teachers will become skilled in using motion pictures as a substitute for textbooks and will change their teaching practices accordingly.

We now know that none of these assumptions proved to be true.  Yet, in later years, the same assumptions were made with regards to radio, TV, PCs, laptops, interactive whiteboards … and are now being made about tablets.  Let’s look at these assumptions again:

Content: In contrast with the erroneous assumption about content availability when the 1922 motion picture prediction was made, we can safely assume today that sufficient digital content is available as ebooks, educational software and even open education resources.  But now we are making another assumption: learners (and their teachers) will know how to find their way through the plethora of available content; the current under-utilization of such resources proves that this assumption is wrong.  This is clearly a case where more is not better, and the mere availability of content in no way guarantees that it will be used.

Affordable and available equipment: This is a more risky assumption; tablets are less costly than its PC and laptop predecessors, but how much will it cost – and how long will it take – to provide every child in the country with a tablet? For education to be transformed, more than a sporadic presence of technology is required; every teacher and child needs access to technology for it to have a significant effect.

Technology stability: Technologies have replaced each other rather rapidly over the years and the rate of change is accelerating; we can’t assume that the tablet as we know it today will be the device of choice in a year or two from now.  In fact, based on the history of technology, we can safely assume that it won’t!

Classroom integration: This is the most dangerous assumption of them all; it can almost be stated as a fact that it will take years – many, many years – to train and educate all our teachers to become comfortable in using technology for teaching and learning.

The flawed assumptions made in 1922 about a particular manifestation of technology are still being made today.  And we’ve only discussed four of them.

Until these suppositions become realities we can’t expect the tablet, or any other technology device, to revolutionize education.  A mere change in tools does not bring about transformation.

The full potential of technology can only be achieved if it is part of a complete rethink of education structures and practices.

Tablets will not transform education … unless we empower our teachers to become skilful users of technology!

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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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