“Only use technology if it makes your lessons easier”
This is a favourite rallying cry by technologists as they seek to persuade teachers that technology is there to make their lives and the lives of their students easier.
Implicit in this message is the focus on technology as a tool or vehicle to support learning, reminding teachers that the best tech tools are transparent, supporting and enhancing rather than obscuring learning in other subjects.
Underpinning this is the helpful desire to encourage wider use of technology, to urge teachers to dip their toes. As one strategy for choosing technology to support the wider curriculum (digital literacy) it can be useful.
However, there are unforeseen consequences to this approach1. It can encourage teachers to believe that if they encounter any technology that is too complex, that isn’t instantly obvious, they can drop it because it doesn’t make their lesson easier.
Computing Science and programming will never make your lessons easier. They can help your pupils become good problem solvers. They can encourage independence, team working and move pupils away from an unhealthy dependence on their teacher. They can unlock how much of the modern world works but in the short run they will never make your lessons easier. They can make them much more satisfying and fulfilling but that is another blog post.
Interestingly, once you accept that computing science and programming are complex, that there is going to be a learning curve, all your teacher skills can come into play. You can do some research or attend a good course or if you are responsible for the subject, plan a pathway to gradually help you and your colleagues access this new learning. Give yourself permission to learn incrementally just as your students do.
Miles Berry once famously described programming software as ‘struggle-ware’. In that short phrase he encapsulated all the frustration and fist pumping glee that comes from struggle and overcoming struggle. I remember downloading Scratch many years ago and abandoning it after 30 minutes because I didn’t get it. At that time it didn’t occur to me to find out what programming really was, what the thinking was behind it or the particular challenges that programmers face such as bugs and debugging. I was still stuck in my ICT mindset and it didn’t make my life or lessons instantly easier so I abandoned it.
Looking back, I am so glad I picked it up again and gave myself permission to learn gradually as it has made me a better learner and some of that has rubbed off onto my pupils. After all, as someone once said, ‘kids don’t do what we say they do what we do’.
1, It also has implications for the more complex parts of Information Technology and digital literacy. Spreadsheets and databases can be neglected as they are seen as being too complex.