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Plato’s Computer – a Box of light?

Along with a colleague, I was writing a new teaching and learning publication for the staff in my school.  Our intention is to publish an electronic celebration of good practice and new thinking once every half term, encouraging contributions and input from across the school.  Whist browsing for an inspiring title, I came across this quote:

“Someday, in the distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light and knowledge” Plato

It got me thinking.  I understand that looking at historic quotations with new knowledge is not always the best way to consider Plato’s thoughts on the future of learning, but what did he mean?  He cannot have had known about the age we live in and our boxes of fire that are getting smaller and more powerful by the day.  But, if we take these boxes to mean the computers and Information Communication Technology we have today, then Plato also notes the concern that I have with ICT in schools and potentially in society.   What I do accept is that learning is changing because of these devices and we all need to change with it.  My concern is – at what cost? And, if you read my first blog on the value of education out of the classroom you may already have some insight into where I am going with this.

I am quickly becoming a huge fan of technology, its capacity and its potential.  I have all the gadgets and I am leaning how to use them.  On a recent conference at Cramlington Learning Village, I was inspired to start this blog and change the way that I am working with technology.  Nevertheless, a machine or a new piece of kit did not inspire me.  It was the people: amazing, enthusiastic, passionate and real.  They too were inspired by each other and worked together to get the best out of their students AND the technology available.  My concern continues that ICT cannot drive a learning revolution but I acknowledge that it has to be a big part of it.

Being heavily involved in my school’s BSF programme, has led to some interesting discussions about the way we approach ICT and computers in the school.  The ‘desired’ outcome, according to the programme, is that all students have an individual learning device.  We do not feel that we are ready for that or that our students have the skills to accept that responsibility.  They can certainly run rings around most of the staff when it comes to use of applications, but when they are faced with real interactions they are not always prepared.  Also from my experience, although I do not want this to be the focus of this blog, there is a significant copy and paste culture, which demonstrates an immaturity in ICT usage.

I have read a lot this summer through social media.  Twitter has exposed me to a world of blogs and websites that have taught me a thousand things.  They have got me thinking and really interested in the world and the job I do.  I am enthused and ICT has brought that to me, but it has not replaced and will not replace the joy and exhilaration of real experiences.

I am involved in amateur theatre and was performing earlier in the year in a production of Guys and Dolls.  I talk about my hobbies and interests quite often in the classroom and I do sing out loud!  After months of asking, I eventually agreed to arrange for my year 10 group to come and see a performance.  Out of the fourteen in the group, one had been to a pantomime before and rest had never set foot in a theatre.  They are a great bunch of kids and they drive me insane, but the conversations that we had in the following days and weeks were awesome, and we planned another two theatre trips immediately.  The smile on one student’s face will live with me forever. I have never seen that enthusiasm after a video finished or they log off their computers! The initial impact of some ICT is immense, but real experiences cannot be replicated with 3D glasses and a fancy projector.

I have no idea where I would be without an internet connection, my iPod, my phone or my computer.  There is no need to hang onto all the knowledge that I needed to in the past.  I can find out in seconds by switching on a one of my devices.  That is not how we assess in todays schools and the direction that this current government is taking with assessment and examinations does not support that way of working.  So where do we go?

Plato is right; we must adapt and be creative with where and how learning happens, particularly in a technology rich world.   But, I remain concerned that our students won’t know how to connect with each other without a cable.  I know and accept that ICT is the future and I believe that the ‘fire’ in the these ‘boxes’ can light the way.  It will, however, only lead to greater knowledge if it is coupled with actual experiences and real human connections.