Jules recently sent me this article ‘Edtech: Who Benefits?’ by Annie Murphy Paul. She knew that it was right up my street - and she was right. However it has made me realise a few things - or maybe helped me to articulate ideas that have always been with me. As you will read, (I’ll wait here) it explores how librarians and academics reviewed the use of computers in ‘new’ libraries either side of the tracks in Kensington, Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill and the “Badlands” - doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination to work out which is which, eh reader?). The computers the researchers installed sound like my favourite self-teaching, intuitive, Apple products - which I think also makes a difference.
Both libraries were given new tech and the two researchers, Susan B. Neuman (New York University) and Donna C. Celano (LaSalle University) who wanted to watch how the patrons read printed and digital books. They were keen to see how computers might “level the playing field” across economic lines.
As a teacher with a background in multimedia, and now as a school improvement coach (with a tendency to work in the more deprived areas of the South of England I must add) I cannot help to think this was a little naive. Put the computers in and see how the rich and poor react? Of course both groups will use what they know - and do what they know. The same would happen given a pen and paper, or a calculator potentially. You see it in Apple stores across the lands. Did all the poverty stricken patrons start messaging, taking photos of themselves and gaming, whereas their wealthy peers completed their novels and Googled their LinkedIn accounts… Or is this stereotypical? Is it more that one group has more access and therefore more digital experience on this continuum…? Was this an unfair project from the start? The rest of the piece explores the ‘digital divide’ and raises questions about what we can do about it.
So what would help to bridge this divide? What would narrow the gap instead of widening it when students (of any social class) use computers?
My view is simple: students need to MUST have the same opportunities to be creative, to be innovative and to have confidence using technology in a range of mediums. They need to be trusted to meet the same challenges, teach one another, and have the same digital foundation. There needs to be a point where the students all have the same foundation - and then they are encouraged to reach for the stars.
For over a decade, I have taught, moderated and been an examiner for Media Studies in the UK. It gets a bum deal - being the ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject against the super-shiny coding beast that is technology. However I know it is Media Studies that helps thousands of students. It not only teaches students to understand 21st century media representation and deconstruction but, more importantly, to become up-skilled in industry standard tools, rather than merely given access to the tools (as in the study above), or create a spreadsheet or pie chart.
For example, my students would be able to edit their own videos, Photoshop images and broadcast podcasts using software from Final Cut to free apps they could use on their own. They knew about cropping in Photoshop as they had done this for themselves, before they had gone on to identify cite examples in magazines and newspapers. They looked at the world of art, literature and culture through film theory, musical genres and historical movements. They knew that media re-presented life to them from body image to news values. They also could articulate their own understanding of each.
What particularly struck me is that some of these students had the lowest KS2 grades in the country - many had (arguably) never had a childhood. Did that matter when they sat before in a computer in my classroom? Only in so far they were more in need of my help with learning the industry standards, for both PCs and Macs, because they had little exposure outside of the classroom. (They wouldn’t find it in the local library I can tell you that). Students were taught to a ‘standard’ and then had digital confidence of industry standard media and mediums to start their post-school adventures.
Ultimately I prepared them for life outside of school - to the best of my ability. Was it hard? Yes. I had to battle for resources, time, and respect- for the subject and the students. Was it worth it? You bet.
As the research bears out, the library patrons’ used tech for what they wanted - for better or worse—depending on their background. Left unaided and unfocused I would do nothing but browse Pinterest, skim news articles and be judgmental amount people’s Facebook accounts, but I do have a focus and I do have some skill(z). After all I know how to teach myself tech. (I am a TechnoTeacher after all.) Therefore is the divide really more about skills and confidence, or socio-economics? And if it is the former, how do we make sure our students learn the skills they need to be productive members of society? By standing back and watching- or by up-skilling students and resourcing schools, providing courses such as Media Studies and the best tech for the next generation that we can to one end = ensuring that for all schools/ all students are computer-illiterate. Digitally literate. Digital learners. And all teachers are TechnoTeachers. that is a level playing field in my eyes.
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This is where Jules and Nic will post articles, links to interesting sites and things that we think our TechnoTeachers will like.