Magazine article NATE Classroom

The Technology Cage: Waiting for the Break out

Magazine article NATE Classroom

The Technology Cage: Waiting for the Break out

Article excerpt

Lately I've been thinking much about the Westward spread of paper from China late in the eighth century. When paper reached the Middle Eastern cradle of civilisation, what would have been the effect? At that time, would-be writers were probably struggling to scratch an impression on papyrus. Their literate ancestors --stretching back thousands of years beyond the days of the great Nebuchadnezzar II--would have had to settle for soft clay as a clumsy medium for recording their burgeoning business transactions. Just imagine the size of their filing cabinets. When paper finally arrived, Baghdad scholars presumably settled down with their shiny new slices of A4 in quiet writing rooms and waited for pens to be invented. Unfortunately, before anyone could get round to sourcing a reliable supply of biros with a fluent ink delivery system, the Mongols arrived and completely obliterated the scholars' peace and quiet--along with most of Baghdad's buildings, culture and technology.

Of course technology and culture have always been closely connected--in a tense, edgy way: culture turns its nose up at technology. Until it discovers iPhones. This creative tension between technology and culture is what underlies Language variety--Magna Carta & SMS messaging (NLS Y8). Innovative, abbreviative uses of language that arose with text messaging were driven by the same imperatives as drove the shorthand code used in the Magna Carta: cost and effort. Medieval copy writers and 21st century teenagers both--in their own ways--strive for economy and ease.

Perhaps that is why many people still tend to equate technology with laziness and low standards. I suppose that's roughly how I felt when I first encountered computers. I knew the school had a BBC Micro that was safely locked in a book cupboard, but my lessons could get by with pen and paper thank you. And the fact that they could, just proved how classy I was. Then this was 1989--my new school showed me into its brand-new Nimbus computer suite, and I fell in love.

I found myself booking my classes into this suite increasingly often and, as I did so, new pedagogic uses for technology kept occurring to me. Increasing computer power has made what was only dimly imaginable in 1989 a practical reality today. For example, Teachit's 'whizzy things' such as Magnet, Syntex and Scramble support active, exploratory approaches to language investigation and bring a touch of magic to English--magic that was previously reserved for the sorts of science experiment demonstrations undertaken with a relationship to health and safety procedures that could be regarded as flirtatious at best.

But, before long I began to feel like those thirteenth-century Baghdad scholars sitting quietly, wondering if biros would arrive before Mongols. The Nimbus room began to feel restricting in two main ways: it was dominated by machinery, and you could only use it if you had booked it months in advance. Neither of these conditions was conducive to thought and creativity: the new technology had merely created another sacred closet--like Baghdad libraries, toilets and PE. teachers' 'offices'. Even now--23 years later--I find that IT in schools is largely constrained and confined--either to the traditional computer suites, or to the out-of-reach IWB at the front of classrooms. The latter at least allows us to make effective use of visual stimuli as in Descriptive writing starter, but still leaves the technology in a cage. …

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