It’s almost a theological battle – the digital guys versus the IT people.
From the outside, there’s plenty of people who assume that IT and digital are the same thing – both a bit nerdy, both spend a lot of time on computers.
But there is a fundamental difference between them, and it’s one which determines the nature of how your school uses EdTech, and that, in turn, helps decide how pupils are equipped for using digital tools in their school work and, later, their professional lives.
To put it (over) simplistically – the IT people like a project; the digital people prefer constant change. The two don’t have to be wholly incompatible, but its an approach which can cause a clash. An IT project is predictable – when it is delivered well, it will have a launch date, a budget and a lifespan. We will know what devices it will work on and we will know what level of support we can commit to, in order to adapt to the more extreme of the changes in the wider world. An IT project might last for 3-4 years and it will be recognisably the same at the end of that period as it was at the start. It brings stability, and thus the ability to plan and budget accordingly.
A ‘digital’ world view is simply that the world is constantly in flux and that you may as well try to keep up with it. Projects are much shorter, more unpredictable and will continue to change. Any digital project that makes it to a 4 year lifespan will be almost unrecognisable by the end of that. Digital projects will change the tech, the platform, the supplier multiple times. It will be based on the idea that so much changes over an 18 month period in the world of technology that planning for the long term is useless.
In education, the IT guys are in the ascendancy. A risk-averse culture that is common in public service industries (and education counts, even when privately supplied) likes to plan for the long-term and likes to remove variables. The best example of that might be the reliance on the virtual learning environment – a controlled space where nothing unapproved can intrude. In many ways it makes sense, and gives the institution charged with the child’s welfare, a measure of control. Good intentions and a perfectly respectable outcome.
But it’s not how the real world works, and it’s not how it works the minutes those pupils walk outside of the school gate, when the filters are off, on their own devices at least, and the internet is there to be explored. They will find some horrors, for sure, and ISPs can do more to protect. But the full-scale censorship of the traditional school IT approach means that pupils don’t learn how to do their own filtering. They will be fascinated by much that is inappropriate, but they also need to learn to make their own judgements on whether content is appropriate – and also whether it’s true, balanced, useful and applicable.
In short, it helps them make sense of an increasingly digital world and how they actually use tech – for their amusement, for their education and, in future for their work – this more fluid approach usually means that work/leisure/learning is done through a variety of sources and tools. Different sources of content, and different tools to use them. Essentially, the front page of a digital life is Google, not a VLE. Content from everywhere, and the tools might be a bit of Gmail here, a dabble with Dropbox there, maybe connect through a social platform, maybe aggregate through Pinterest.
While some say that pupils, in an age of Google, don’t need to learn facts, just skills, then the key skill is the ability to analyse and understand those facts, and work out the veracity and importance of information put in front of them. By putting filters between children and content, they don’t learn how to judge the quality of what is in front of them since everything put to them is ‘good’. If you’ve never seen ‘bad’ content, why would you assume it exists?
It’s admirable for the IT guys to want to have a world which is on-budget and to look for ways to protect children from the worst excesses, but hide them from everything and they’ll never know how the digital world really operates.
Thumbnail via Ryan Tyler Smith on Flickr cc