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Friday, 31 August 2012

Computer systems: A fable on technology

I am by no means a Luddite however I am a little bit skeptical at an over reliance on technology. As you can see I have the capacity to learn hence my use of hyperlinks in the text but I do believe my spelling (and indeed my typing accuracy) has gotten much worse since auto correct has become more prevalent.

At least though I still continue to write words properly (even in tweets) unlike some students I teach! Though that is a topic for another time.

As the new academic year rushes towards us one thing is slowly/quickly coming into focus. In this year our use and expectation of our students use of IT will be greater than it has been before. The use of 'the flip' or 'blended learning' seems to be on the increase. As far as I can tell the two are not quite the same.

The flip involves students having access to lesson materials before the lesson. The idea being that the students learn the knowledge before a lesson and the time spent in the classroom is used to improve that knowledge, test it and for the teacher to correct and guide the students. 

Sounds ideal doesn't it!

The other technique - blended learning - involves the use of the internet and computers for the students to use in order to access the information in a way they may be more accustomed. 

Right.

Anyone who works with IT knows that it seems to spend a large amount of time broken or not fully functioning. Anyone who works with children knows they have a great - almost infinite - capacity for breaking things. 

At our school last year often our students laptops were broken, lost, not connecting to the internet or out of charge. So knowing that we are heading into the new year with the focus being heavily on the use of IT in all our science lessons fills me with a little bit of dread.

Add to this issues with the network, uploads, emails and photocopiers for staff and you sense the frustration you can have.

Plus I am a scientist! I want to see/feel the science before me. Whether that is the heat of a Bunsen or see the colour change in a chemical reaction or observe the activity of an animal in its habitat. 

Again though whether we are risking the sacrifice of one type of skill set for another one is a conversation for another blog. As is the thought that maybe pandering to the lazy expectations of lazy parents/students/politicians might not give us good learning (ooh controversial).

What I do have - half way through I know! - is a story from today that I feel serves to illustrate why I am concerned about a reliance on technology.

I live in a parking permit residential area. Our parking permits needed renewing so I took myself down to the council office to purchase two new ones.

I arrived and got very quickly to see an adviser - I believe his name was Keith (identity bracelet and initialed his name with a K) - who was very polite. 

However.

Before I arrived all of their computer systems had crashed. While I was there the computer system was still running slow. The printers were offline so my receipts were done by hand to much apologizing from the staff there. 

So far so good, slightly slower service and a bit of faff because they - like most people - are very used to using IT systems. 

Now for the fun stuff, in order to process my payment I had to go and use an automated payment machine. There were three machines in the offices. All were out of order!

Oh no! after a few quick phone calls it was decided I could pay by phone with the office responsible for the parking permits- hurrahs! 

But oh no, the printers were still down - another quick discussion (4 members of staff at one point) decided it would be ok for me to have my temporary permits hand written until the permanent permits arrive.

So I payed by card over the phone, even though I was in the building, for the permits as the machines were down. I had handwritten receipts as the printers were down, I did however get the permits printed as the printers came back online during the time I was there.

Fun times.

The moral - if there is one - if you are going to have a reliance on IT 1) make sure you have a back up in place and 2) make sure your staff know about the back up! 

Which reminds me, where are those text books....

(as a post-script it should be said that the staff in the office were amazing, very friendly and incredibly apologetic for a situation that was not of their making, they also got on with finding an alternative way for me to end up with what I was after - my permits - so hats off to them!)

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