On the Horizon: New Technology in Education Requires Paradigm Shift

April 1, 2013

As I consider the materials for Week 2 of the Games MOOC course I’m taking, I think of the context where I work and of how hard it has been to bring about even the most obvious of institutional changes.  Some of the readings asked us to look at recent New Horizon reports, where the next 1-5 years of edtech adoption are anticipated for any given year.  It’s interesting to look back and see how their predictions fared.  For example, the 2009 report for K-12 (the first of its kind for K-12) speaks of “collaborative environments” and “online communication tools” in one year or less; “mobiles” and “cloud computing” in 2-3 years, and “smart objects” and “the personal web” in 4-5 years.  The only one of these that has begun to impact my own school is “cloud computing,” and that impact will only be felt in the “back end” (data closet applications of a hybrid hosted solution for a phone system), with occasional use of cloud storage.

My point is simple:  there needs to be some degree of institutional support for these kinds of changes to become widely integrated.  Otherwise, it remains to the “outliers” or pioneering teachers to continue experimenting and integrating the latest technologies (the latest being games and mobile devices and augmented reality, all subjects of this latest round of the Games MOOC).

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The other point:  the required paradigm shift — a move toward “student-centered,” constructivist or “constructionist” models of education with “inquiry-based learning,” “problem-based learning,” and the like — has been discussed and theorized for decades now.  There is very much a slow trickle-down process (molasses like!) when it comes to how these ideas infiltrate current practices.  When I first read it back in the early 1990s, I was encouraged by Seymour Papert’s book The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of Computers, in which he writes that “…computers serve best when they allow everything to change.” He describes the phenomenon of School as a bureaucracy that absorbs any innovations and sequesters them, enabling the existing system to continue unchallenged.  This has been my experience for the past 16 years trying to integrate this kind of change Papert advocates in his book, which has been published for almost 20 years now. I think with schools being pushed into 1:1 initiatives and/or BYOD, the technology might finally push the institution into shifting the paradigm at long last.