Reflection on technology and school

Tr2 Let me commend Tim Rylands to you.  Tim is one of those people who hunts out and absorbs great ideas. His enthusiasm for trying out new things is infectious and he is clearly very naughty.  Tim doesn't like to stand still – he likes to fly, and his mission is to help others to do the same.  If he were 10 years old and in a classroom he would doubtlessly be sent out and told to sit on a chair.

My continuing quest to engage with schools and get into the minds of teachers took an interesting turn with Tim's session at ICT for Education in Manchester. Tim is one of those people who by all accounts has been very successful at setting children out on a journey of discovery fuelled by curiosity.  What I like about his style is that he doesn't stick to any set solution, he's constantly trying out new ideas and experimenting.  He showed us some of the teaching work he's been doing and all I can say that it is a psychedelic mash-up of words, sounds and images using all sorts of emerging gadgets and online tools. 

When I was at school I used to play with technology.  I built a radio station made up of the schools DJ kit and an assortment of tape recorders. Every Thursday we piped the output around the school. What the teachers didn't know was that we'd constructed an illegal transmitter and could be heard all over town.  I made light shows by dangerously re-wiring the coils on the back of old TV sets and handed in assignments presented as radio documentaries. My memory of school in the 70s was filled with all that kind of stuff.

The fun and games played with cameras, recorders, animation tools, innovative web sites are enthralling but I really don't see this as a new thing. I am certain that new technologies don't change a single thing.  At its heart is something much more human and basic.   I wanted to find my own way forward and discover things for myself and I wanted the approval of my friends. The more I owned the learning the more exciting it became.  I remember spending whole weekends making sound effects and writing and recording scripts.   My teachers didn't stand in the way of any of my schemes – so I suppose it was more about what they didn't do rather than what they did; In a discrete way they gave permission.   Here's another point – I don't remember using much technology that we didn't build and maintain ourselves. Maybe that's what children still want to do.

The words creativity and technology  have lost their currency and leave many people bewildered. I suspect some companies that market educational technology prey on the confusion and fear that exists in some schools.  Some of the exhibition stands I visited signalled safety and and control rather than free expression – virtual learning environments, systems for reporting attendance to parents, automated testing and grading of children;  I imagine the latter to be of the type used to supply evenly sized potatoes to Tescos

My instinct would be to relax when it comes to technology and to use what's easily available at any given moment – and importantly go with what the children are already familiar with.  The unstopping flow of imaginative tools and creative opportunities can't be packaged and controlled.   Perhaps rather than focusing on the tools we should look for those underlying gifts – inventiveness, story telling. encouragement, leadership, craft and so on. 

Tim Rylands talks about flying. I like that.  The things that inspire us to move forward are emotive, they are the feelings we get when we discover something special both in ourselves and in the world around us. A lot like love, really. Human technology.  The sparky connections between people that spur us on to embark on a journey of discovery that would be impossible on our own.


Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email