“Why are you telling us about I.T.? We’re teachers!”
I recently noticed what I perceived to be a worrying theme when it comes to educators implementing e-learning technology solutions.
More often than not, when INSET or other training or support is on offer, to help educators to expand their repertoire with e-learning, it seems that the majority of would-be willing participants or attendees find that their time is consumed on other matters which are deemed to be more pressing: “more important” or “core business” being two phrases I have heard and seen in a great many places to explain non-engagement in such INSET, etc..
This reminds me of conversations I have had with my own colleagues in some of my previous roles, most especially as a deputy director of a 6th form college and as head of I.C.T, in a comprehensive school, when they’ve said that they’re “too busy to think about e-learning” or that they need somebody else to set up e-learning solutions for them as they don’t have time to do it. These conversations are commonplace and indeed in other situations we may have also prioritised things ourselves, missing something which other people thought was more important.
So what is it about e-learning which makes people regard it as an add-on or fun item, somehow “less important” than, as one colleague once put it to me, “real work”?
Casual conversation with my e-learning specialist colleagues at a number of institutions revealed that this experience is very commonplace; as one colleague from another H.E.I. recollected to me, she’s often called upon for “E-Learning” support when the requirements are really “I.T. Support requests” – for example, requests to unjam printers or sort out network storage issues.
Recently the department I work in started to investigate why, despite us being the “E-Learning development team”, we seem to spend a huge amount of our time responding to such “I.T. Support requests”.
To cut a long story short, as we began our research we soon started to hear comments along the lines of “we don’t have time for fancy stuff like I.T.: we have important work to do” and, as the title above says, questioning why teachers, or teacher-educators, would want to engage with, or need, “I.T.”.
As we collected more data, discussed it amongst ourselves and heard from more colleagues at other settings, some common themes emerged: i) a significant minority of educators (in all sectors) have a poor grasp of the basics of Information Technology and E-Learning, in the most extreme cases having exceedingly low I.T. Skills (“when I get the mouse to the edge of the desk I have to get a book or something to hold up to the desk so I can scroll further, but the wire isn’t very long so can I have a cordless mouse?”) and ii) many educators completely lack understanding of the difference between “information technology” and “technology enhanced learning” or “E-Learning”.
I don’t have the answers to these problems, but I do know that a shift in attitude, such that “I.T.” – as it is so-often mis-named – is no longer regarded as the lowest of the low in terms of priorities is urgently required, especially as my conversations and observations are based on those who are training teachers. At a time when classroom teachers in every sector and phase of the education system need to be making ever-increasing use of E-learning technologies, the trainee teachers are receiving the message that “I.T.” is of limited value and can be regarded as an “optional extra”.
A good starting point would be to disentangle the terms “I.T.” and “Technology enhanced learning”, but how can such an apparently wide-spread misunderstanding be effectively and swiftly addressed? I for one have no idea where to start!