Transformation catalysed by ICT - the three transformation points.

There are three key ‘transformation points’ in the use of ICT in education. These are human points, not technology points. The critical technology consideration is that it must work 100%, because ‘transformation’ is about asking people to do things differently. To change what they do to take advantage of ICT teachers first have to be able to assume without fear that they can use ICT in class, then that all their pupils can use ICT in class, and then most powerfully that all the pupils can access the online platform and use ICT out of class.

Working recently as ICT Lead in a Building Schools for the Future local education partnership (LEP) there was remarkably poor grasp amongst those involved of how education needs to change to take advantage of ICT. And of how education will be forced to change by the impact of ICT on people and society.

Here we had teams of architects, designers and construction engineers engaging with the schools being re-built and with the local authority teams. There was really excellent drive from the team in the LEP to get everyone involved to grasp that the schools had to be able to provide the spaces and facilities education will need in twenty and fifty year’s time. With education on the hinge of change to new organisational and curriculum approaches this is hard. But it was demanded of everyone to show how the school designs will work in the future. The mantra was traditional, transitional, transformational. Overlays had to be produced to show how the flexible structures, spaces, facilities and furniture could be used for traditional approaches to teaching and learning, for transitional approaches as teachers start to adopt new ways, and for transformational education.

The majority of the people involved were of course not educators. But traditional, transitional, transformative was easy for them to grasp as a starting point. It posed lots of questions of course about what transformed education is, but they were on track to learning that and starting to push the expert educators who understand for answers and insight.

But there was nothing comparable being driven into the design discussions about the way education needs to change because of ICT. For instance there were architects involved who had not worked out that it is absolutely inevitable that all pupils will at some point in the future carry their own powerful web-enabled computer. Even if this is ten years away it is still an essential factor for them to take account of.

It says something about the poverty of the community and the clarity of vision of the schools that this kind of insight did not seem to be forthcoming from the educators involved. I suspect this is also because the use of ICT in education and its impact is complicated. ICT can be used in so many ways. Everyone can grasp the difference between classes of 30 pupils in classrooms, changing lessons on the bell, and learning happening flexibly in large and small groups, sometimes teacher-led and sometimes independent and pupil-led. They can imagine the people inside the planned buildings and can conjecture how they are interacting and what this means for light, acoustics, M&E (mechanical and electrical) and FFE (furniture, fittings and equipment). (You need an extensive glossary of acronyms to be able to understand the what is being talked about in BSF meetings!)

We need a similarly simplistic starting point for talking about how ICT transforms learning, that parents, politicians, architects and builders can understand. It might also help teachers to grasp and think about how education must happen in the future. I put it to you that there are three major transformational points with ICT, that enable education to transform for the future as it should:

  • teachers using ICT in class
  • pupils using ICT in class
  • pupils using ICT out of class

But bear in mind that we are talking about human points, not technology points. The technology has to be present and work, just as buildings have to be there before you can learn and teach in them, but it is what the human beings decide to do that matters. The teacher must automatically assume, without having to think about it at all, that they can use ICT in their teaching. That opens up a huge range of new opportunities that they can factor into their lesson planning, or can decide to use on the spur of the moment when the progress of the lesson requires it. I leave it to you to start thinking about the secondary questions of what has to happen to enable all the teachers in a school to be able to assume they can use ICT in class whenever they want.

But the second transformation point, assuming the pupils can use ICT in class is much more powerful. There is a sub-division of this point, as to whether it is the teacher who decides the pupils will use ICT or whether they can themselves decide to look something up on the Internet while the teacher is talking. I was in a conference call yesterday with work colleagues, and all of us were googling away as we talked, to check things and to get information we needed for the conversation, and we were referencing several documents on our computers. This kind of multi-tasking is the expected norm in many businesses.

But finally a school will get to the most powerful ICT transformation point. When a teacher assumes all the pupils can use ICT out of class, then they can really begin to change what happens in the class. An English teacher in a NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) meeting a few months ago explained it eloquently, “The things we talk about in class have moved to a completely different and higher level. We don’t talk much about the topic being discussed, we talk about how we went about discussing it; how the pupils expressed themselves and marshalled their arguments, how they supported their positions with evidence and examples, how they debated with others rather than just presenting their view.”. This had become possible because all the pupils could access forums on the school’s learning platform. Discussion of the topic happened on the forum out of class. Class time and the classroom with everyone together could be used for higher-order learning.

This is just one small example of the transformations in learning and teaching that can happen once this third point is reached. This is the point at which the use of time and space can be changed to make learning more effective and efficient. The whole 20th century school paradigm of classes, classrooms, age determined year groups and everyone following the same teacher-led curriculum can be questioned and changed as desired.

The frightening reality to close with, is that in the UK we have some schools that are now at and past the third transformation point. The educational offering they provide to their pupils is streaking ahead, improving much more rapidly than other schools. Yet we still have many secondary schools that haven’t even properly reached the first transformation point.