After some stressful weeks with my school’s Matura exams (school leaving exams) and a short holiday trip to Berlin I am finally studying again! :) And am trying desperately to catch up on some patchy previous weeks … I chose to finish the current activities first, however, before moving on to older ones. This might give me the chance to actually discuss things with my peers, whereas I expect to be rather on my own in previous activities which have already been finished by most other students.
This posting mainly refers to an article by Gráinne Conole (2009): Stepping over the edge: the implications of new technologies for education. In her article, Conole discusses the impact Web 2.0 technologies may have on learning and teaching practices – which are constantly changing. But what’s the role of Web 2.0 in this change?
The first comment I found thought provoking was
“for each new technological development there are an associated set of ripples of change in terms of their impact on individual practices and roles, and the structure of organisations.”
I understand that these changes just come into existence and are unavoidable, no matter how much (for example) educators value new opportunities or are afraid of new threats. It only depends on the actual power of individual people or groups of people how much the changes are regarded welcome or ignored.
Just one example from school: In Austria, it’s up to the teacher which media he or she uses for teaching. If, in a given class, the teacher wants assignments hand-written on ruled paper it doesn’t matter how skilfully a student compiles an interactive hypertext document – if the teacher insists upon his power it’s useless to achieve a positive mark. Now, such a behaviour might or might not be approved by us; but it’s there in institutions everyday, such as the changes cited above are there. – Who’s in power and who promotes them?
Later in the article, Conole states that
“strategic change will require vision and an in-depth understanding of the new media, and it is debateable whether senior managers have the appropriate skills to do this.”
Yes, agreed. I have, however, sometimes come across a different scenario: I have met very motivated senior managers in our education system – from headmasters to ministry personnel – who very well understood the chances of the use of current technology and had sometimes worked in that field for years. They just didn’t manage to successfully transfer the message to the majority of teachers. Is it again a question of power?
If we – as Conole says – should apply top-level strategy and policy in order to ensure systemic change, there must be an incentive for teachers to experiment with education technology other than a professional attitude towards their own development because this might not be capable of obtaining a majority all the time. Where does the motivation then come from? From power – pressure, from a fear of losing one’s job or money. Or from some kind of bonus, from extra money or extra privileges connected to one’s involvement in teaching with new media. I have the feeling that – despite of some successful top-level projects – systemic change has hardly begun.
Why is it that so many teachers are still afraid of getting involved in new media? Conole thinks some might be
“overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and potential possibilities and intimidated by the fact that incorporation of these new approaches will require a fundamental change in their role as ‘teacher’ and associated lose of authority.”
I can confirm this thought with my experience as a teacher trainer. In fact, these two issues come up most when I talk to education technology sceptics about their thoughts. The first point, however, is mentioned more often than the second one – though I often can read between the lines that the fear of losing authority is there. Maybe people are reluctant to admit that they are proud on what they’ve learned and on what they now may pass on to their students. And now they can’t because in the age of Wikipedia everybody can be an expert.
I can understand the fear of colleagues who are confused by the current peer attitude we can found all over Web 2.0 technologies. Your teacher has become your peer, your learning buddy – the person you can talk to face to face, Your teacher has stepped down from the podium. Does he feel comfortable there? It depends. And it might be as uncomfortable for some teachers as it might be uncomfortable for others to speak in front of an audience. I am just confronted with my perspective on school all the time, but I can imagine that in other fields similarly experts are afraid of losing authority – senior managers in companies, professors at universities.
I think there’s really the possibility for some experts to lose their authority with the rise of Web 2.0 – but only if they fail to demonstrate that competence is only partly determined by their expertise on new media. It is determined by their experience in knowledge management (no matter if this involves books or the internet) and more prominently by their willingness to learn and to develop. Authority based on power nobody questions is declining rapidly. Authority based on experience, helpful feedback and the readiness to never stop learning is not in danger according to my view.