Tuesday, 10 August 2010

In loco parentis - via a webcam?

He who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.  ~Harold Wilson.

This afternoon I started to join in to #edchat on Twitter. The conversation was heavily leaning towards the emergence of online learning and it's potential impact on education in the future.
A lot of people were voicing the new regime of online or virtual learning, against the more conservative, traditional view. This got me thinking about jumping on the bandwagon before the path has been thought out. I am of the opinion that the best changes often happen slowly, affording seamless transitions between sections. This, in itself, is a great management technique, although there is, on occasion, the need to rip out bad practice quickly and noisily.
But I digress, as usual. Where was I? Change.

Because things are the way they are,

things will not stay the way they are.

Bertold Brecht

Trust a playwright to sum things up so well. I welcome change, but I do not rush to the dam and open the floodgates, as I fear the effect will not be well received. I think that a shift in educational priorities is essential for effective teaching to take place. As I said in a previous post, we are teaching tomorrow's teachers, today. We must be careful, as we were yesterday's learners.
I think that all the discussion in regard to teachers not being face to face with their classes is pie in the sky - at this point. As a primary school teacher, the main role I have to play is not using the Educator Hat (nod to DeBono), nor the Facilitator Hat, but the Nurturing one. We, as teachers, act as in loco parentis. The last time I looked, no one was suggesting their job should be done via a computer.
I would not class myself as a traditionalist, 'jug & empty vessel' type of teacher. More the opposite, in fact but I can't help thinking that jumping to a complete reliance on distance learning will not answer the problems properly.
I think that the speed at which the digital revolution has taken hold of education has been the largest factor in school change. A catalyst of sorts, affording us, as teachers, the opportunity to try new things out and utilise new technologies in class. It has also reduced even the most tech-minded adult to a second-class citizen. An Analogue visitor in the world of the Digital Native. I think our biggest worry is being left behind. As a result of this, we panic into changing too quickly, without first thinking about the whole picture.
I think there needs to be some corroboration and organisation of the integration of online learning in classroom contexts. What is to be classed as what?
In primary, a child goes online to play a game, say http://www.poissonrouge.com  - a great website to introduce children to basic mouse control, puzzle & interactivity. Is this classed as Online Learning? As a teacher, I merely told the child to go on it, I needn't have been in the room but, when I turn my back and the child accidentally clicks on minimise, I need to be in the room to show them how to correct their mistake.
I understand that I am probably not getting the point. That's true, but education isn't about what's easiest or most readily available. If learning was supposed to be like McDonalds, we'd all be getting the McDiploma in 5 clicks, but we don't. We look back on the hard yards and cherish them, mostly because we recognise that they were the ones that helped us become who we are today. I wouldn't have made the hard yards on my own. I would have quit. Does that mean that in tomorrow's education system, am I just the webcam that doesn't tune in? Am I the plagiarised German essay translated badly by Google? I hope not.
I honestly believe that it is the human interaction which shapes the learner into a person able to adapt to change themselves, rather than simply using the most convenient method at the time. My view is obviously based on primary education, where the need to support physically as well as mentally is balanced. I'm sure that, as we move further up the education scale, the balance shifts, affording more  freedom & independence as befits the learners. But please, don't write the importance of human interaction out of the education process. 80% of our communication is through non-verbal & often subtle body language & mannerisms. Hard to pick up via a pixellated webcam.
I'll leave with a line that, although not education based, fits quite well I think:

There's a reason why people go to stores. It's for good old-fashioned customer service that involves human interaction. We seem to be getting away from that somehow.

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