Time

by Rob Poulter


"This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down."

"The Hobbit", J. R. R. Tolkien

This is going to be one of the rare times I write about education, but also technology. As a teacher, it can be quite difficult to get out of the rut of doing the same old thing. Pressures from trying to cover everything in the curriculum, making lessons accessible to a variety of types of learners, looking for new ideas from behind a bunch of marking, the need to keep parity with other classes so that assessments are relatively manageable to organize and consistent; basically planning for new things can be a struggle.

The bonus is that teachers tend to be fall into the sharing and caring category. Lots of people share lessons, ideas, tools and so on at many different levels: person to person, between schools, school districts or globally[1].  Having taught a lot of mathematics this year, it's been great to be able to get ideas for lessons or how to approach a topic in a different way, get a bunch of problems for students to practice, or show students a nifty instructable.

In technology this has tended to be a different story. Outside of the core learning areas this sharing seems to dry up in favor of something which seems higher in volume but I feel is less useful: lists. I consume the vast majority of my news and other interesting stuff via RSS (with some from Google+), even though most of the educators I talk to seem to live on Twitter. Most of what I see out there in terms of edutech sharing is of the "X tools to help you manage Y", with a paragraph describing each tool in broad terms, sometimes with useful stuff like costs, need for signup etc. Missing from all this is the stuff which I feel would be really useful to other teachers which is how people actually use this stuff in their classroom: how do they manage the need for an account for every student, how do they manage the hand-holding phase while everyone gets acquainted with it, how do they sell the value of the tool to IT for installs, network exceptions etc. You know, the nitty gritty that turns people off from using new stuff in the classroom in general.

What I'd like to start seeing more of (and ideally, doing myself) are articles that focus less on a huge variety of different things and end up being about as useful as the BuzzFeed lists that they mimic, and more on case studies of individual tools which look at the benefits and pitfalls of using them in the classroom.

Oddly enough, the thing that triggered this for me was finding a blog (Math Mistakes) which discusses how mathematics is taught in a classroom. The author goes through student answers to papers that have been set, and works through the problems in their thinking and what can be done to improve on them. I was left thinking "why don't I see something like this for tech very often?". The easy answer is probably that as educators I think that we're still finding our way to a decent curriculum for technology, and given what "technology" means we may never actually get there.

[1]  - Although global sharing tends to be on an individual level since different educational institutions don't seem to like sharing the fruits of their funding with those who do not directly pay for it, which is a crying shame.