Bernard Keane has written an interesting piece in Crikey.com.au today about the impact of online retailing on Australian business. The article includes this assertion:
… Australians retailers show all the signs of following the same template of denial that we’ve seen from other industries whose business models have been smashed by new media: first ignore the internet as irrelevant, then fail to grasp its potential because you’re too comfortable with your pre-digital business model, then realise it’s a threat, then demand governments make the threat go away by forcing consumers back into your old business model, then watch as new entrants with whom you’ve never had to compete before – who indeed may not even be in your industry — arrive to offer the innovation you could have offered if you’d been smart enough from the get-go.
When I read this, it occurred to me that if we substitute ‘teachers’ for ‘retailers’ we might also be making a comment about the attitude of many Australian educators. Far too many teachers, school leaders and members of education faculties have initially ignored the internet as irrelevant (if not to their students, at least to them personally and to their role as educators), then failed to grasp its potential because they are too comfortable with the pre-digital models of schooling, then realised it’s a threat, and tried to block students from using the internet, or at least imposed strict controls on when, where and how students can be online. And now they risk being left behind.
There are many studies that indicate student preference for blended learning (a mixture of online and face to face course delivery), and those same studies indicate that blended models lead to significantly higher student outcomes (grades, retention and satisfaction). Contrary to what some parents and teachers may think, education is the main purpose for which children aged 5-14 access the internet (ABS report on social trends, June 2011). In every part of Australia at least 70% of young people have access to the internet, and there is hardly any difference in basic access along socio-economic lines. Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to use mobile phone technologies to access the internet, whilst students from more affluent areas have access to other models such as laptops and home computers (Flinders University/SA health study Dec 2009).
Thanks to government policy, most secondary students in Australia now have regular access to laptops, tablets, and the internet on a daily basis (although we are still far short of the ‘one laptop per child’ ideal). Many teachers are embracing this change and experimenting with new and interesting ways of using online technologies in their teaching, but there are others who are in denial. “I don’t have the time” and “What I’m doing now works perfectly well, why should I change?” are the two most frequent responses to efforts to encourage refusenik teachers to embrace the internet in their teaching. But students deserve better, and it is incumbent upon all teachers to find the time, to make the effort, and to collaborate with their colleagues and their students to ensure that 21st century young people receive the best possible 21st century education.
Or perhaps, like the retailers referred to in Bernard Keane’s article, they will find themselves sidelined and eventually overtaken by education providers from non-traditional backgrounds and emerging new players in the field.
Building a professional Learning Network with other educators online (e.g. using Twitter), taking up face to face and online opportunities for professional learning, and setting aside the time and energy to actually use the internet yourself (e.g. Facebook, exploring Wikipedia and YouTube, and most importantly seeing your students and more tech-savvy colleagues as partners in the project are all very good ways to start. And school administrators need to recognise how important this is, support teachers in up-skilling themselves and each other, and remove the restrictions which hinder students and teachers from exploring the educational opportunities that the internet has to offer.