I love technology. When I look at the improvements it has made to my life it is just incredible, from reconnecting with old friends to making it easier to find a plumber. I’ll just compare one task –going to the cinema: as a young teenager I would have to get out the Yellow Pages and find the numbers of the local cinemas and then phone each one individually to find out what was showing. I could only phone when the phone-line was manned – later in the day. Recorded messages stating films and showing times were a great innovation. Now of course not only is all the information online, but I can be alerted if a film I particularly want to see is on and no more queuing to buy tickets; I book online. Technology just makes life easier. When my generation wanted to travel, parents had to wait until their offspring had managed to find a phone that they could phone the UK on and then they often had to accept expensive reverse charges. When E went travelling last year a free daily whatsapp message reassured me of her safety. A recent fall in child murder has been put down to the proliferation of mobile phones. In fact I have a game I play with myself when I go to see a film – particularly one set in older times – what would have happened if they had had a mobile phone? Imagine the storyline in The Revenant if Leonardo had been able to phone for help!
The latest bit of technology that fascinates me is virtual reality. Christmas day found me fighting zombies. It is so exciting. Imagine a classroom –scrap that, too small, – a school playground where all the children are wearing headsets exploring Space. As they look around they may be surrounded by dark, but there in the distance is a planet. Let’s go and investigate it – oh look, it has moons circling it. In my imagination the whole class is totally absorbed in their own Space; exploring and discovering for themselves. But hold on, that imagining is far too expensive. We could perhaps, at a push get one VR headset. So let’s readjust our vision to one child exploring space and reporting back to everyone else at Mission Control (I’ve added that bit in to make it feel that the other 29+ kids in the class have a role to play). The other minor hiccup is that I don’t think this software/film is available yet and who knows how much it would cost if it were. Even so I really believe that technology has an enormous amount to offer.
The downside of this is when the focus is on the technology rather than its educational value. I remember in the early infancy of interactive whiteboards the plethora of software applications that sprung up. Most of them were truly appalling in one way or another because they focused on the technology not the learning. That BETT we were opposite a stand that sold such software and they had one application on a loop. An Infant Maths program that was based on a Game Show. The cartoon host would come on and greet the participant and then give them a simple sum to complete. If they got it right there was confetti, a clown rode across the screen and there was mass hysteria in the “audience”. Then we went back to the hosts greeting for the next question. Each sum took an inordinate amount of time and the cheering format didn’t change. If I had been a child doing it I would have been extremely bored and demotivated. Never underestimate the inner satisfaction one gets from getting something right. You really didn’t need all the bells and whistles. It was as if the makers really had to make the most of the medium. And there were so many applications like that that I could mention. But I won’t – you get the picture.
So although I love technology it is not the” be all and end all” You really must ask – what will my children be gaining from this experience? Is there a better way to teach it? And this is the approach we have taken both with the design of Roamer and with the development of the activities. The focus should not be on Roamer, it should be on the educational experience and objectives. So Roamer may fail on the “latest exciting bit of technology” front but it will always win on “educational value”. Unlike other technology it was actually designed for the classroom and because the focus is its educational value it is future proof.
Now I must go back to killing Zombies!