It was with great intrigue that I received the opportunity to attend an event organised by Intel and Argos, titled 'Old school vs new – can technology really deliver better results and what's in store for the future of the classroom?’ The aim of this occasion was to conduct an interactive experiment where those attending would sit through two lessons; one taught in the old fashioned way without any kind of technology and the second with all the latest gadgets readily available’. Why? To find out if technology aids or diminishes the further education of our next generation. It was also assured that it would be 'a fascinating, thought-provoking exercise that will produce real results’ which was one bold promise, especially as even on my better days, I am a technical buffoon who can only be trusted to competently operate a biro.
So along I went to the hanging baskets of Pimlico to the Ofsted rated outstanding Pimlico Academy, where I took my seat in class, at a table equipped with paper and luckily for me, a biro. The lesson I was about to receive was English Literature and the text was Macbeth: a play which due to a curriculum malfunction I ended up studying for 3 solid years at school. I smiled to myself at the thought of breezing through this class. Of course I was setting myself up for a fall as, I don’t mind saying, academically I have always been average, apart from PE where I languished happily last for any team selections. Reading through an outline of the play, I was stunned at how much I’d forgotten. Stupidity established, I soldiered on. The format of the lesson, taught by an Educational Psychologist by the name of Ben, was, bearing in mind technology for me only came into play at University, much the same as my frame of reference of my own experience of school. When the teacher wasn't talking there was pin drop silence. Immediately I had flashbacks, where the fear of saying something stupid far outweighed the potential educational gain, and I was overwhelmed with the sinking reminder of how much I loathed school.
The purpose of this lesson was to examine two versions of the play, an old edition (the first folio printed several years after Shakespeare’s death) and a modern ‘Arden’ edition, which undoubtedly was the same one I set fire to shortly after completing my English GCSE. I’m joking of course, but I do recall considering it. Whilst comparing the difference in stage directions was very interesting I struggled to keep my focus, especially in this enticingly unfamiliar class room with various rules and slogans emblazoned on every wall. The class then ended with an assignment where we had to write out our own stage directions which I failed to complete in the allotted time. When asked to feedback about the experience the main point I made was that had I been able to type then I would have easily finished. It would have still been wrong no doubt but at least it would have been completely wrong.
What does an English lesson studying Shakespeare, this time Romeo and Juilet’s balcony scene, look like with every technical gadget at your fingertips? Firstly your pen and paper are upgraded to a laptop and headphones. Instead of reading a written summary of the play we watched an animated version courtesy of the great resource that is YouTube, beamed in via a projector. We then viewed various film interpretations of said scene, including Baz Luhrman’s modernised version and the most recent film by Carlos Carlei, who was rather more traditional in his choice of settings and costumes. The assignment this time involved us using the internet and social media to find our own version of the scene and then type up our observations about the staging, bearing in mind the original summary we had seen and the subjectivity of the directors choice of staging. Everyone in the room immediately opened up a file at the touch of a button and started typing, except me. I bumbled around until the on hand tech person took pity on me whilst I unnecessarily announced that I used a Mac not Windows. I was finally away and found the assignment enjoyable and actually finished it.
I didn’t think there would be anything particularly ground breaking about this experience but actually I came away quite bitter about the fact this method of teaching wasn’t around when I was at school. Everything about the lesson was so much better. It reminded me of those occasions at school where you spent half the lesson watching the teacher attempting to get the video working only for said video and television, which was always on a trolley to be wheeled out of the room and replaced with the clunky black and white affair borrowed from the staff room. However, it wasn’t just about the slick functionality of everything. I felt so much more engaged in what I was learning and able to make far better observations not to mention the lesson flew by and I took no interest in the class room decor. However, most importantly, how did I fair when my assignments were marked? I was surprised how much they spoke for themselves - I received a rather embarrassing C- in my first lesson which then elevated to a B- for the second, a trend consistently demonstrated by every other participant.
At the end of the experience I collared the teacher. I wanted assurances that this was the future, that all schools would be fully equipped with the skills, resources to teach this way. The response was, somewhat predictably, that this wholly depends on the funds available and the motivation of the head teacher. However, if this is the future then I assure you, our kids will be bright.