31 July, 2008

Preaching to the Choir

Have you ever been invited to give a course or a presentation to a group of reluctant or resistant converts? It takes a certain type of person to survive such an experience. For the first twenty years or so of my professional career, I usually only preached to the choir when giving presentations or submitting project proposals. In the last years, since I started working in schools, I’m standing amongst the reluctant and resistant.

Originally, I was involved, one-way or another, in training technicians to maintain or repair complex medical equipment. The technicians wanted to do their job well, for not infrequently, lives depended on them. I wanted them to do their job well too, for exactly the same reason. Even the shareholder-pleasing corporate executives running the company were interested in us doing our jobs well. Then I went over to working in university research.

The projects I worked and work on are highly innovative. Or, innovative in the sense that the ideas we are trying to promote (i.e., creative and constructive use of digital media in schools (K-12 grades)), are not commonly practiced in the schools in our region. Even though many studies, in the last then years, state the importance of media literacy in our children’s development, the school system here ignores their responsibility to lead and guide their students in this learning process. The last three weeks have been particularly discouraging for me because nearly every meeting I have attended with teachers has been like swimming through toffee.

I am discourage not only because the teachers are so reluctant or resistant when it comes to introducing media in there classroom learning scenarios (e.g. grade 9 math teacher reluctant for her students to use Excel tables to record data), but also because I cannot convince them to change their Old World practices.

It does not help to point to the conclusive results of the studies, or to indulge in passionate rants. Before the teachers actually take the leap and use media in their classrooms with all the joys and sorrow this brings, no amount of talking will change things for the present generation of students.

Just in the last weeks I have heard the following statements,

“My students know if they want to reach me, they have to come and find me, for I don’t look at my email inbox for weeks on end.”

(from a dear friend and dedicated college English literature teacher)

“I have to study for exams, I don’t have time to waste on the Internet. Maybe in three or four years time, I’ll look and see what is offered there that I can’t find in books.”

(from a college occupational therapy student nearing graduation and who, like her other classmates was very resistant to use a computer as a learning tool)

“What is the pedagogical advantage of using media? It only causes confusion and trouble in the classroom.”

(from a high school math teacher)

“The teachers don’t want us to use digital media. They don’t even want to use it themselves. Why do you bother trying to convince them otherwise? You’ll only fall on your face if you keep trying to present them (the teachers) with new ideas.”

(from my 18 year old son)

I really question the soundness of my ambition to become a teacher in my next career. How can one person make any difference when the learning instructional forms are so rigidly planted in the past century? With this frame of mind, I listen to Geetha Narayanan keynote talk at ED-Media 08. She talks about the necessity for remodelling our educational system,

“It is my current position that contemporary forms of schooling do not sit comfortably with the potential of new media. Nor do they resonate with the needs of youth today. All of who need to live, and live well, and not just struggle to survive in today’s complex world.”

I sit in my living room and I am transported over to her inner city programs in India. I am a choir member listening and rejoicing to the sound of her preaching voice as she talks about her children and teachers and the wonder of learning. Maybe I will become a teacher, maybe not, but it is inspiring to know there are people out there not only with a vision of reform, but with the energy and influence to implement it.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, poor dear. Teachers (and teenagers) are among the most conservative people I know. On the other hand one has to keep in mind that as a teacher the things one says don't have immediate impact. You're planting seeds. Sometimes one says something and years later it will emerge again and bear fruit in somebody's mind.

    That doesn't mean that I don't get impatient with people who don't check their e-mail too.