Every new medium that comes along takes time to find its feet. At first we just see it as a better way of doing ‘business as usual’.
When the movies took off, at first they looked an awful lot like stage plays on celluloid, or they made our novels visual. It took time for film makers to work out what they could do that live theatre and the printed word could never achieve.
Television began as a way of bringing the movies and plays into the living room. Newsreaders sat in front of the camera in sharp suits and did the equivalent of reading the newspapers to us. Today TV news is instantaneous, right in the middle of the action and all over the world in an instant – something only TV could manage.
Electronic communication began as a wave of emails – old fashioned letters in a new format. Today we text, send instant messages, videos, instagrams, we tweet, we blog and we facebook. We are beginning to use electronic communication for its own sake, making the most of the new things it can do that older media never could.
That’s why many schools are having a hard time incorporating these new technologies. The media and the devices haven’t settled in yet. We haven’t fully recognized what they can do that is different, that they are not just the same things from the past in a new wrapping.
Ipads are still being used as a natty new kind of text book. Kids and teachers are using them as a substitute for pen and paper, sharing homework assignments and submitting written projects. They use them as dictionaries and as encyclopaedias, but they can be so much more. We are still looking at the new media through a rear view mirror, as Marshall McLuhan would have observed.
The trick is to ask yourself ‘what can this device and its software do that only it can do?’
Once you work that out, exploit it to enhance learning. Projecting a twitter feed on a classroom screen gives everyone immediate access to the insights of the whole class. You can’t do that with a pen and paper. Skyping a classroom half way around the world (if you can fiddle the time zones right) and watching what they are doing, can’t be done with a conventional phone. Every kid can find his own TED video to watch and then share what he has learned by building a Prezi.
It goes on and on – so many things to be done with an ipad that are not simply new ways of using books or pen and paper.
It will take time. That’s inevitable. But eventually we will find ourselves using electronic technology in ways that amaze us, because we will discover how to get the technology to do what it does best.
The big question to ask is “What can this do that nothing else can do?” rather than “How will this help me do what I have always done better?”