I often argue that a useful analogy for technology is the toolshed: a place filled with a bunch of different tools that do different things for the right teaching/learning situation at the right time. Following this analogy, sometimes we need to spend a little time sharpening our tools and checking to make sure we know what each them is capable of doing. With this knowledge and understanding, we can usually take the right tool out of the shed and use it when needed.
Or can we? I think things get a lot more complex when we think about the “toolshed” housing the tools. Is it a place where everything is labelled correctly? Does a collapsed shelf or overturned table get in the way? Is the roof leaking? Does the light work? All of these things can stop us from reaching for the tool we need – and of course you could consider the “overturned table” to be a metaphor for something – the network, a software application or laptop battery – not working when we need it most. In any case, the analogy sticks.
This week’s post from Mark Weston via the Fluency Project explores the toolshed in more breadth and depth. “How Education Fails Technology (And What to Do About It)” investigates some of the underlying problems in the support structures for teachers trying to achieve good outcomes – the “2 sigma” – for all their students. Weston’s belief is that the 2-sigma (the highest possible learning outcome) are simply not achievable given the load that is placed on most teachers in most schools:
Despite Bloom’s work and thousands of subsequent studies by other researchers (e.g., John Hattie, Robert Marzano) that demonstrate the positive effect that specific practices and conditions have on classroom learning, 2-sigma remains a rare attainment for teachers. This is largely because in the current educational paradigm individual teachers must shoulder a disproportionate share of the pedagogical load for making 2-sigma happen.
In drawing our attention to the burden of trying to do the best for all of our students all of the time, Weston suggests that “education is failing technology” – that, in spite of the tools and infrastructure we have, there are underlying problems in terms of “organisational designs and decisions” with the system that need to be addressed.
Weston sees the solution as “putting technologies in place that enable teachers, students, and other educational stakeholders to generate emergent feedback about the school-level support they receive and guide further refinement of their efforts.” Inherent in this argument is the importance of recognition of professionalism and agency over compliance and a repeated set way of doing things that isn’t questioned, revised or built upon. I think we all have so much to offer – and it’s our collective efforts that make the “toolshed” that is our school a well-designed, pleasant place to visit and find the right tool with the right support behind it.