Four days ago an article appeared in The Australian newspaper where, Dr John Vallance, Principal of Sydney Grammar School, outlined his school’s decision to ban students from bringing laptops into the classroom, in a bid to return to return to a more traditional classroom dialogue. (see full article here or a Daily Mail version here)
I have some problems with this argument.
In my mind the argument is actually a veiled attack on teachers who are, in Dr Vallance’s mind, abdicating their role to that of the computer. Dr Vallance claims he’s made this decision in order to re-focus attention back on learning and teaching delivered from the front of the classroom, reinforcing the thinking that the teacher is the font of all knowledge. And of course, students should agree with them, or if not, be brave enough to take up the mantle to disagree with the ‘so-called expert’ in the classroom.
Of course technology won’t replace quality teaching, but it can certainly enhance quality teaching and learning. And this decision by Sydney Grammar removes a valuable tool from the hands of their teachers and students. Technology, provided in the classroom, is the great democratiser – the tool with which students are able to confidently ‘take on the teacher’ and develop their arguments to engage with the teacher, who in the twenty-first century, should no longer be seen as the expert, but rather the facilitator of their learning.
“One of the most powerful tools in education is conversation,’’ Dr Vallance states. Yet, it would seem that he’s happy to remove the world from his classrooms and limit the conversation to a one-way didactic voice. Dr Vallance argues that technology in the classroom is “making it quite difficult for children to learn how to disagree, how not to toe the party line, because they can’t question things — the possibility of questioning things has been taken away from them.’’ In the greatest of ironies, please take a moment to look at the comments written under the initial article for evidence of a digital conversation; one that crosses borders, nations and time zones, not inhibiting conversation, but actually extending it and certainly questioning things. You see, when used correctly, technology will actually enhance a conversation rather than limit it.
However, I’m a realist. There is no denying that at times technology can be misused but so too can a pen or pencil. Again, it comes back to the teacher. If there is a specific reason for using the technology, surely the professional in the room should be able to call on all resources at their disposal? And, perhaps it is because I’m a realist that I have concerns with this decision –the boys of Sydney Grammar, like boys and girls around the world, exist in a world of technology. Surely learning to use it, live with it and exploiting it is more important than retreating from it and burying our heads in the sand?
Teachers are professionals who make judgment calls every lesson of every day to determine the most effective method to spark creativity, analysis, critical thinking and empathy. Banning technology from the classroom simply treats teachers as misbehaving students; students who are unable to make decisions for themselves, or perhaps students who are making decisions that some people simply don’t like. This shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition and of most concern to me is that the decision has seemingly been made for the staff and students rather than by them.